Google Sneaks In a Flight Simulator with Earth

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Google Earth logoThe newest release of Google Earth, version 4.2, comes with a hidden flight simulator. No, it’s not the other way around and yes, it’s still free. For all supported OSes.

Although the simulator appears very basic, with just 2 aircraft and 27 airports, it seems like this part of the software is in beta (and therefore largely undocumented) and some have speculated that this “could become a standard feature” in future versions, introducing the rather exciting prospect of Google getting into designing games (not that flight simulators are games). Or, with the release of Sky that’s got astronomers screaming in joy, “Power to the people!” (or something else to that effect), who knows? A space simulator, perhaps?

The two airliners available for you to fly at the moment are the F-16 Fighting Falcon (or ‘Viper’, as Google Earth and some pilots like to call it), a lightweight forth-generation fighter, and the Cirrus SR22, a single-engine prop fixed-landing gear four-seater popular with business flyers and learners (competing with the Cessna 172). The F-16, which can reach speeds exceeding Mach 2 and fly higher than 50,000ft, is a tougher aircraft to maneuver in the simulator, compared to the SR22, which can cruise at a maximum of 330km/h and fly up to 25,000ft.

Landing an F-16 on VNKT ry20, VFR approach

What’s interesting is that the default starting position is runway 02 of Kathmandu‘s Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA/VNKT) in the capital of Nepal (my home airport), which, of late, has been drawing the interests of major international airlines. And, apparently, Google. Other airports you can fly out of include London Heathrow, Los Angeles, Kilimanjaro, Palo Alto, Sydney, Pokhara. Any one of the 27 available.

Realism, unsurprisingly, is not a focus of this simulation. Fun is. Getting to fly over satellite images of the world is just plain cool. But if you’re looking for a real flight simulator, there’s always the multi-platform free and open-source sim FlightGear, or commercial alternatives Microsoft Flight Simulator and the uber-realistic X-Plane, among others.

The hidden simulator was initially discovered by Marco Gallotta, who found that hitting Command + Option + A (or Ctrl + Alt + A if you’re in Windows) invoked a launcher window. The only bit of documentation from Google at this point is a list of keyboard commands in the Google Earth User Guide. But you can check out the many video demos already uploaded to YouTube.


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