Did you know Google Earth has a free built in flight simulator and you can fly all over the world? It has been there since 2007, and in the meantime computers have gotten way faster and the data has gotten better. In some ways, its the best simulator you can fly!
Shortly after the flight simulator mode was first released as a surprise easter-egg by Google, I produced a video for this blog showing off the feature and how you could fly in Google Earth. But, it wasn’t possible to do an HD resolution video at that time and the content for the city I flew over was much lower resolution compared to today’s new Google Earth 3D imagery. I’ve been meaning to do an HD video for a long time. Check out this super HD video below – and make sure you view it FULL-SCREEN. You’ll be amazed Google Earth can do this! The video will give you all the basics on how to fly, but I’m sharing more details and tips below the video. This video was captured at 2560×1440 at 60FPS, so it really shows off the awesome 3D data Google has been putting in Google Earth the last few years.
GE Flight Simulator Tips
Inside Google Earth, look for the menu choice under the Tools menu called Enter Flight Simulator…. A window will appear (see below) which lets you choose which plane you want to fly and where you want to start. To quit the simulator hit the Exit Flight Simuator button, or the ESC key on the keyboard. There’s also a keyboard shortcut “CTRL-ALT-a” that will start the mode immediately.
- Tips for beginners – You should first read the Help on the startup window, or simply go to this Google web page to learn the basic controls for flying. More keyboard shortcuts can be found on this site.
- Start up the flight simulator as described above. I recommend you choose the SR-22 plane to start (it is a much slower plane than the F-16, and will help you learn the controls). Choose an airport, but be aware most of the provided airport choices have changed in the years since the simulator was added. Better to put yourself on a runway as shown in the video. If you don’t have a joystick, you can’t select one. Don’t worry, you can use the mouse/trackpad to fly. Next hit Start flight.
- You will see the HUD (Head Up Display) in green (click here for a guide to the HUD indicators). Make your window dimension roughly square (otherwise you may not see all of the HUD display elements, although this problem was fixed in later versions of GE).
- To get started, hold down the Page Up key briefly (this will add power to your plane). The throttle indicator is on the lower left (triangle should be at the top for full throttle).
- To control your direction on the ground, use the comma and period keys on your keyboard to apply left and right brakes. Just touch them briefly to change direction left and right. Holding them down will slow you down and that is used for landing.
- Important tip – mouse control – it’s best to use the mouse to control the plane (unless you have a joy stick). I wouldn’t bother with trying to fly with the keyboard. Simply click the mouse once in the center of the view and you should see your cursor change to a “+” sign. Don’t move your cursor outside the window or you will lose control! The mouse will only control your plane in the air, and if the cursor is inside the Google Earth window.
- Taking off – Once your plane is going faster down the runway, try moving the mouse back slightly from center. If you’re going fast enough you should take off. Remember: just make small motions with the mouse close to the center of the screen. Once you have the wings level, put the mouse in the center. A lot of first time fliers have a tendency to over correct.
- To make a turn – move the mouse slightly to the right or left and when your plane is banked, pull back slightly. When you’ve made the turn you want, push the mouse back to the center then the other direction to tilt the plane back to level. Then re-center the mouse cursor.
- Pausing – If you want to stop for a moment, simply hit the SPACE key on the keyboard and it will pause the simulator. Hit SPACE again to resume. You can look around with the CTRL and arrow keys. Re-center your view with the V key.
- 3D Buildings – Turn on the 3D Buildings layer before you start the simulator to see the 3D city data.
- Start higher – Position your view in Google Earth in the normal mode so you are at a high altitude above ground. Tilt your view so you are looking at the horizon. Then restart the flight simulator mode (use Tools->Enter Flight Simulator… menu, or the keyboard shortcut CTRL-ALT-A) so you can choose what plane to use, and other options. Choose Select your start position->Current view in the window, and then choose Start flight. You should add power by hitting the Page Up key after starting it up. Now you can practice flying a while before you hit the ground!
- Landing – it is possible to land the plane. You can watch the video above for ideas and tips on landing the SR22. For landing with the F16 jet, here’s a recent video a reader shared showing him landing it.
Get out there and try flying around! You’ll be amazed to find out how smooth Google Earth can be for exploring the world. I recommend you try areas like the Swiss Alps, the Rocky Mountains of the US, or the New Zealand mountains for some really nice terrain. All of these areas have high resolution terrain available in Google Earth. And Google Earth has added many cities with detailed 3D data, it’s definitely worth exploring to see your favorite cities.
The skies are always clear in Google Earth – so, have fun!
If you are a flying enthusiast, you might want to buy a real flight simulator. My current favorite is Microsoft Flight Simulator X (or FSX) only available now through Steam online. It works quite well on current desktops/laptops. You can find out more here (click on the image):