Google Earth for Pilots

This is part of a new series exploring Google Earth uses for different professions/hobbies.
If you’re a pilot, there are many ways Google Earth can be used to really enhance your trip plans both from an aviation and ground-based perspective. But, Google Earth goes way beyond just trip planning as a tool for pilots. I’m a pilot myself, and have been using Google Earth to enhance my flying experiences for nearly three years.

F16 cockpit for Google Earth Flight Simulator

Here are just a few ways you might use Google Earth as a pilot:

  • Destination familiarization – Never been to your destination airport before? Zoom in to Google Earth, and most of the time you’re likely to see high resolution satellite or aerial photos to help get you familiar with what the airport looks like. You should be aware that the photos can be an average 1 to 4 years old, so things may have changed since the photo was taken (just like charts). More importantly, since Google Earth is 3D, you can get a perspective on the lay of the land. It helps to know what the surrounding hills and valleys look like. Use the search function to help find businesses you need such as rental cars, hotels, restaurants, etc. You can also get driving directions and discover fun places to visit like beaches, amusement parks, museums, etc.
  • Flight Simulator – Google Earth has a built-in flight simulator (tips on how to use). Only two types of planes are available (Cirrus SR-22 and an F16). It’s not built for accuracy of flight, and the flight instrument simulation is kind of basic, so I wouldn’t use this for flight training. It’s intended to help give you a better perspective on the 3D terrain in Google Earth. It can also help give you a pilot’s-eye view of your trip and help familiarize you with your planned approaches. Or, you can just use it because it’s fun!
  • Flight Planning – I typically use AirNav to plan an initial route (I really like the ability to plan a route with low-cost fuel stops). After planning a route, you can use Google Earth to visualize it. GE will recognize searches for four-letter airport designators (like KATL). You can even get full sectional charts for overlaying in Google Earth. You can also load the DAFIF Nav Aids database for the entire world into Google Earth so you can see your primary nav aids along your route (I haven’t yet seen an intersections database for GE, but you could input placemark coordinates for them if you have them). And, check out Flyagogo, a Google Maps mashup which was designed for pilots
  • Weather Planning – there are all kinds of weather tools for use with Google Earth (here’s a collection of some of the best). These are not geared specifically towards aviators, but they can be another set of data until you get to your regular weather resources.
  • Flight Review – Take a handheld GPS with you on your flights, and use Google Earth to visualize your flight afterwards. Download your GPS tracks to your PC. You can then view your GPS tracks in 3D (complete with altitudes) and see what things you flew over during your trip. Here’s a post describing how I do this using a Garmin GPS and some other tools to enhance the track data.
  • Sightseeing – If you’re on a long trip, you might want to make sure you fly to or over some particular sight. Recently I missed seeing something really unique because I didn’t check my planned flight for interesting sights. Next time I won’t because I input a waypoint in my GPS to help remind me.
  • Plane Afficionados – If you like planes, you might be interested to know that Google Earth not only shows houses, but also airplanes. And not just planes sitting on the tarmac, but planes captured flying around too. There are many plane aficionados using Google Earth to discover all kinds of planes. For example, look at this collection of DC-3s. Or, this frequently updated list of planes in flight. And, there are even folks who have simulated 3D flying like this Red Bull Air Race. You can also track airline flights in near-real-time in Google Earth.
  • Aerial Photography – Maybe Google Earth will inspire you to become an aerial photographer. A year and a half ago, I had great fun flying over an air and space show in New Mexico and working with Google to put some aerial photos I took into Google Earth on the same day. That photo is now what you see if you look at the Las Cruces airport.
  • Recreational Flying – If you’re into paragliding/gliding, you should check out this paragliding forum which also provides resources for recording and viewing your tracks for Google Earth.

These and many other stories related to flying and Google Earth can be found in the Flying category of Google Earth Blog.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. peter schou says

    Hi Frank
    Any suggestions to a software that can be used on windows mobile 6 and a blue tooth gps so that i can log my movements in the air (and speed)
    i am training for my pilots licence and will like to keep track on my altitude and speed variations (as supposed to the flightplan 🙂
    you can answer me on my private mail
    Thanks for your assistance

  2. GPS technology is already found in cars, boats, planes, construction equipment, film production equipment, agricultural machinery and even laptop Computer. GPS can give you many benefits

  3. Jackson Mangan says

    Hi Frank,
    I got a problem with my installed GE. At first I could see the globe and playing around with it and also entered the flight simulator. But now, the only thing that I get is a blackish screen and I couldn’t get my flight simulator back. Whenever I entered the flight simulator, there’s always a blank screen and warning note noting that my plane was crashed! I really like GE’s flight simulator very much.
    Is the problem due to bad internet connection?

  4. Gps cool thing, but the technology still imperfect also demands the further promotion. I have many problems with my GPS navigator.

  5. Hello Peter,
    just to answer your question on a freeware to log your position via a gps and a PDA on board.
    I have developped a freeware that works on my WM6 smartphone and which logs your position, altitude, etc…
    look at the doc on
    You can download it, also the Virtual Machine which supports it and you will get a log.
    Also you can convert it (colored by altitude 😉 to a kml file for visualisation on GE.
    NB:Send a mail to just to let my know if you use it

  6. Wow, there are some amazing ideas on your list, I’ll certainly be trying them out!
    Thank you!

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.