How to Get 3D Buildings in Google Earth

[UPDATED July 2009 – This tip still applies with GE 5.0]
Flight Simulator with 3D Buildings in Google EarthGoogle apparently thought the 3D buildings in Flight Simulator mode would slow down performance for some computers. So, starting with Google Earth 4.3 they automatically disable the 3D buildings layer when you turn on the Flight Simulator. As a pilot, and flight simulator fan, I really don’t like this – and have sent requests to Google to re-enable the feature. Note: download the latest Google Earth if you haven’t already.
The good news is that there is a work around to make the 3D buildings come on in GE 4.3/5.0 Flight Simulator. The process is just a bit of a pain, and you have to do it each time you start up the Flight Simulator. Here are the steps:

  1. Enter Flight Simulator mode – Select “Tools->Enter Flight Simulator“. Optional: fly to a city which has 3D buildings (tip: San Francisco, Baltimore, Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte – these all have lots of 3D buildings).

  2. Open the SidebarSidebar shortcut – Press ‘Ctrl + Alt + B‘ (or + Option + B‘ on the Mac) to bring up the sidebar

  3. Turn on 3D Buildings – Turn these on in the Layers pane in the lower left after the sidebar opens.

  4. Turn Off SidebarIMPORTANT – before resuming the flight simulator, turn off the sidebar by hitting the sidebar shortcut from step 2

  5. Resume flight – Now you can resume flying the flight simulator by hitting the SPACE key and the 3D buildings should stay on for your current flight.

NOTE: – See GEB’s Tips on Using Flight Simulator.
NOTE 2: If your machine doesn’t have good performance with the 3D buildings, then you shouldn’t try to fly with them turned on. I don’t think Google should automatically turn off the layer though. Do you?
Google Earth 4.3 (beta) was released last week on April 15th (see GEB’s first impressions). This new beta has some very nice new features like sun lighting, new navigation controls, better 3D building performance, and Street View imagery (see the video demonstration, and more details on the release).

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. I have to say that as much as I like GE 4.3, its really straining my hardware (Core2 Duo Intel processor with 1GB Ram). Trying to use the flight simulator AND 3D buildings would absolutely sink me.

  2. I never understood the habit of limiting options in later software versions. Adobe got rid of an unique animation technique in ImageReady, some versions ago. Early Mediaplayers from Microsoft had the simple option to loop a part of a recording.
    Now Google Earth. It had easy zoom/tilt functions, although I missed the ctrl-LMB as in Live Earth, but now it’s really a pain GE deciding when you want to tilt. The DL progress meter with the convenient percentage: gone. This Flight Simulator restriction is another thing.
    Please developers, add functionality. Do not disable it. People are capable of making choices themselves.

  3. Until the 3D buildings can be made so that they won’t crash anyone’s computers, I say that Google did the right thing.
    And as long as there’s a work-around, that’s cool, no?

  4. i agree with blookie, i just hate that they removed the loading bar!

  5. I encountered some really weird screen drawing issues with 3D buildings/flight simulator around Honolulu, Hawaii. Everything above a certain part of the screen simply wasn’t drawn at all and you couldn’t see the horizon. The problem went away as soon as I’d either turn off 3D buildings OR leave the flight simulator. So I thing Google did this because there are some issues they are working through.

  6. when you’ve opened up the sidbar to activate the 3D buildings, you can also check the clouds layer (under the weather layer) for some more realism. using that, the buildings and the new “sun” feature, the flight sim mode looks pretty awesome when flying into the sunset in new york for example

  7. rederikus says

    The thing that I really miss in 4.3 is the removal of the tilt scroll bar. The auto-tilt just does not do it for me. It would have been easy to enable this bar in Options rather than crippling the software by removing it completely.
    I too dislike it when software makers remove useful features in later versions.

  8. ├╝berRegenbogen says

    Middle-drag anywhere to tilt and rotate around that point.

  9. George Brooks says

    I want to uninstall the upgrade and reinstall the 3.0 version to get the tilt option back. Where can I find the prior version?

  10. another reason they do it might be anti-terrorism. if you can fly into realistic buildings for free…

  11. Hey Folks,
    The flight simulator with 3D buildings functions with the newest Google Earth version too.
    Same procedure:
    1) Fly
    2) pause (space bar)
    3) Control-Alt-B, 3D
    4) Control-Alt-B again
    5) resume flying
    Enjoy! BTW: Thanks for turning me on to these tips. Way Cool!
    Google Earth
    Build Date
    May 5, 2009
    Build Time
    2:43:21 am
    DirectX 9
    Operating System
    Microsoft Windows Vista (Service Pack 2)
    Video Driver
    00008086 (00007.00015.00010.01511)
    Max Texture Size

  12. Now with 5.0 you can fly on mars, the moon, and on earth. BTW, I think it’s annoying when you download it and the language’s chinese. Go to “Options” and go to “language” or something and change it to english.
    But I think Google should have a alert box like “3D buildings have been turned off on Google Earth because it crashes computers, etc. Would you like to turn it on?”

  13. So cool, I took off in New York (I live in England) and headed back to the city, turned on the 3D, an wow amazing, I just flew under a bridge and thought it would crash but it didn’t. It has slowed down a lot, I have 2mb and a fairly new pc so it’s worth it.
    Good tips, thanks, off to try the clouds now.

  14. Oh, you can fly through any 3D object, thought it would crash you. I turned on the clouds and london in the small plane is good, especially the 3D Virgin Atlantic plane on the runway.
    The clouds are green!!!
    looked straight into the eyes of the statue of liberty.

  15. Awesome its working or me. But I would like to know whether I can have audio in flight simulator?

  16. ACSBehemothHellcat says

    One time I entered flight simulator with the 3D Buildings turned on, and the buildings were still 3D while I was flying.

  17. Its very slow if u have low ram

  18. Please i need this program for my job.tq

  19. Please i need this program for my job.tq

  20. I need so much 3d building.cause can help me to find many adress and can help me to finish my work in office.

  21. I need so much 3d building.cause can help me to find many adress and can help me to finish my work in office.

  22. cntrl+alt+B doesnt do shit. Really starting to piss me off as I cant resume no matter what.

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.