I’m sure everyone has heard of Google Earth, the program that basically allows users to toy around with locations all around our globe like children analyzing ants with magnifying glasses. And if you haven’t heard of it, well now you know what it is.
Google Earth has a pretty nifty feature called the “Flight Simulator.” The flight simulator basically allows for users to take control of a plane as they navigate around locations, mountains, oceans, and landmarks of their choosing. Most of us played some variation of this during our teen years, and it’s great to know that Google Earth has added this feature to allow for working professionals like all of us to waste even more buckets of time on the computer.
To enter the flight simulator, simply go to Tools –> Enter Flight Simulator, or you can press the hotkeys (Ctrl + Alt + A). This will bring up a menu shown below:
I don’t really know the difference between the two planes except that one looks cooler than the other, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference which one you choose. You can start the simulator where you are currently positioned, or choose one of many airport runways worldwide.
It’s very easy to get the general gist of the Google Earth flight simulator and the controls are very flexible. Although it is recommended that you use a joystick to have your fun, one can also control the plane using keyboard or mouse. Personally, I like using the mouse to fly the aircraft, but this may be counterintuitive for some. I’m not going to get into the details on how to start flying – there’s dozens of resources dedicated to learning about the specifics of the program, and what to press to become a super pilot (the controls are listed here).
Here’s a really nice tutorial by the Google Earth blog that explains the basics of getting in the air:
So now that you’ve tinkered around with the flight simulator, there are add-ons to play with as well. These are just a few that I found to be useful on my journeys across the world, but there are probably more open source code somewhere on the internet with all types of features.
A silly thing to try out is to upload a cockpit add-on which displayed a dinky aircraft cockpit and two legs (supposedly yours):
Cockpit add-ons for each of the airplanes can be found here. Just open the file using Google Earth and you’re ready to go! Note that the cockpit can obstruct your view of the beautiful scenery, so unless you’d rather be staring at the above picture rather than breathtaking mountains, well, you make your decision.
Another more useful add-on is a GPS arrow developed by Nearby. Simply go to the website, enter the coordinates of your destination, download the link, and it will open up in Google Earth:
This in turn deposits a small compass-like navigator at the bottom right corner of your flight simulator:
It may be hard to tell, but I have about 6,500 km left until Ireland. You would think that after using the flight simulator for some time now that I would be pretty well versed in terms of the flying simulation scene, but as you can see my plane still occasionally stalls (don’t judge me).
A more specified extension of this application is a static Google Maps overlay developed by some guy named Barry Hunter. It is a small map located in your flight simulator GUI that updates itself every 5 seconds, with varying levels of zoom capability on the map. You can find it here.
So now that you are equipped with a plethora of tools that will make your flight simulator experience no doubt enjoyable, pretend to be a pilot and let yourself go!
Do you know of any addons and other goodies to make the Google Earth flight simulator better?