How to Use the Hidden Google Earth Flight Simulator

Find it under the Tools menu

Google Earth 4.2 came with a nifty Easter egg: a hidden flight simulator. You could fly your virtual airplane from several airports or start midair from any location. The feature was so popular that it was incorporated as a standard function of Google Earth and Google Earth Pro. No unlocking necessary.

The graphics are realistic, and the controls are sensitive enough to feel like you have a lot of control. If you crash your plane, Google Earth asks if you want to exit Flight Simulator or resume your flight.

See Google's instructions for using the virtual plane. There are separate directions if you're using a joystick versus a mouse and keyboard.

To use the Flight Simulator in Google Earth, you must have Google Earth or Google Earth Pro (both are free) installed on your computer. It does not work with the online version of Google Earth.

How to Get the Google Earth Flight Simulator

When Google Earth is installed, follow these instructions to activate the Flight Simulator:

  1. With Google Earth open, access the Tools > Enter Flight Simulator menu item. The Ctrl + Alt + A (in Windows) and Command + Option + A (on a Mac) keyboard shortcuts work, too.

    Screenshot of Enter Flight Simulator menu option in Google Earth (Mac)
  2. Choose between the F-16 and SR22 plane. Both are fairly simple to fly once you get used to the controls, but the SR22 is recommended for beginners, and the F-16 is recommended for skilled pilots. If you decide to change planes, you must exit the flight simulator first.

    Screenshot of Plane options in Google Earth flight simulator (Mac)
  3. Pick a starting location in the next section. You can pick one from a list of airports or select your current location. If you've used the flight simulator before, you can also begin where you last ended a flight simulator session.

  4. If you have a compatible joystick connected to your computer, select Joystick enabled to control your flight using the joystick instead of the keyboard or mouse.

  5. After you choose your settings, press Start Flight in the lower right.

    Screenshot of Google Earth Pro's Start Flight button (Mac)

Using the Heads-Up Display

As you fly, you can monitor everything on the heads-up display that shows on the screen.

A screenshot of the Google Earth Heads Up Display in the Flight Simulator.

Use it to see your current speed in knots, the direction your aircraft is headed, the rate of ascent or descent in feet per minute, and several other settings relating to throttle, rudder, aileron, elevator, pitch, altitude, and flap and gear indicators.

How to Exit the Flight Simulator

When you are finished flying, you can exit the flight simulator in two ways:

  1. Select Exit flight simulator in the upper right corner of the screen.

    Screenshot of Exit flight simulator button in Google Earth Pro (Mac)
  2. Use the keyboard shortcuts, Ctrl + Alt + A (in Windows) or Command + Option + A (on a Mac). You can also select the Esc key.

For Older Versions of Google Earth

These steps apply to Google Earth 4.2. The menu isn't the same as on newer versions:

  1. Go to the Fly to box in the upper left corner.

  2. Type Lilienthal to open Flight Simulator. If you're directed to Lilienthal, Germany, it means you've already launched Flight Simulator. In this case, you can launch it from Tools > Enter Flight Simulator.

  3. Choose a plane and an airport from the respective drop-down menus.

  4. Start Flight Simulator with the Start Flight button.

Google Earth Conquers Space

After you perfect the skills necessary to pilot your plane anywhere in the world, you may want to sit back and enjoy the Google Earth Pro virtual astronaut program and visit Mars in Google Earth. (Requires Google Earth Pro 5 or later.)

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