How To Use Google Earth Flight Simulator: Controls & Guidelines

Every Google Earth version since the one released in August 2007 has an in-built flight simulator. It uses Google Earth satellite images to provide users with a more detailed environment making it a realistic experience. At present, only 2 aircraft models (Cirrus SR-22 & F-16 Fighting Falcon) and a number of selected airports can be used. Controlling the aircraft, flying it and landing it might seem a bit difficult at the very beginning, but once we get the hang of it, it can be a lot of fun. In this step-by-step tutorial, we will discuss how to go about the flight simulator and how to control the aircraft to provide users with a much better experience.

How To Start the Flight Simulator

  • Open Google Earth and click on ‘Enter Flight Simulator’ from the drop-down menu under the Tools option in the top toolbar.
  • For users with any version prior to 4.3, the Flight Simulator can be accessed by pressing Ctrl+Alt+A, Ctrl+A, or Command+Option+A depending on the machine being used. Flight Simulator will then appear automatically under the Tools menu, once it has been accessed by this method.
    Start Simulator image
  • A window will open up for the users to make the basic selections as stated below:
  • Aircraft – Cirrus SR-22 and F-16 Fighting Falcon are the only two options provided at the moment. SR-22 is a slower, easier to control and is meant for beginners. The F-16 on the other hand is much faster and is meant for intermediate or expert users.  We will be discussing about F-16.
  • Start Position – Users have an option to choose from their current view, one of the major airports or the last used position. It is recommended for beginners to start from New York airport.
  • Joystick Support – If users want to use a joystick for the simulator, they should ensure that the device is plugged in and then check the box given here.
    Simulator Settings image
  • Once the selections have been made, click the ‘Start Flight’ button at the end of the page and wait for the map to load.
  • Another step is suggested, particularly to the beginners. Since runways are difficult to spot without aid, it is much more convenient to select all the airports that might be used for landing and draw path along the length of the runway. The width should be set to around 5 mm and different colors should be used for various runways. This will make it very easy to spot any of them even from mid-air.
  • Make sure that the side-bar is open. From the side-bar enable borders/labels and transportation. This will also help in navigation to a great extent.

Understanding the HUD

HUD or Heads-Up-Display is referred to the green lines or instrument readings visible on the screen. Understanding the HUD is very important to control the aircraft and to be able to make the most out of the Flight Simulator.
Flight sim image

  • Knowing what every reading signifies or represents is necessary. Starting clockwise, at the top of the screen is the aircraft’s speed in knots.
  • Clockwise next is the compass which shows direction and at the extreme right end top corner is a small button reading “Exit Flight Simulator” – obviously to exit the simulator completely.
  • Underneath the compass is a meter-like instrument which reads 0 at the beginning. This denotes the aircraft’s vertical speed in feet per minute. When the figure goes negative, it simply means the aircraft is descending or going down.
  • Then comes the altitude above sea level in feet. If starting from New York airport, this should read 4320.
  • At the center of the screen are some more lines and arcs. This is the main HUD with the arc signifying the aircraft’s bank angle and the parallel lines representing the pitch angle. For example, if the pitch angle reads 90, this means the aircraft is nose up vertically and is stalling.
  • At the bottom left corner, a box with left, right, top and bottom represents throttle, elevator, aileron and rudder respectively.
  • Just above this, the flap indicator percent and landing gear status shows up once the plane is airborne. The SR-22 has a fixed gear so beginners should not be bothered about that.

How To Fly & Control the Aircraft

The most important thing that users should keep in mind is that the controls are inverted, as in if the mouse is lowered; the aircraft rises up and vice versa. Now when users are ready and have understood the HUD, it’s time to hit the throttle and take off.

  • Click and press Page Up key to increase thrust. This will start the plane and move it forward.
  • If the aircraft tends to move towards either side, keep it in control by pressing the “ , ” key (moves left) and the “ . ” key (moves right).
  • Once the plane has picked up speed and is accelerating down the runway, move the mouse cursor down to lift the nose of the aircraft. This will lift it off the ground and make it go airborne. The F-16 has a V1 speed of 280 knots, so when it reaches that speed, the plane should lift off into the air.
    City view image
  • Once in the air, turning the aircraft left or right might get a little confusing. To turn right, move the cursor in the same direction till the ground is directly to the right and then move the cursor to the bottom of the screen.
  • Similarly, move the cursor to the left till the ground is directly to the left and then move the cursor towards the bottom of the screen to turn the aircraft left.
  • Angling down, by moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen lifts the nose of the plane thus making it go up.
  • Similarly, moving the cursor towards the top of the screen will angle down making the plane descend.

    How To Land The Aircraft

  • Landing at a particular runway without crashing can be tricky. User must fly towards the preferred landing airport and increase the throttle to maximum and retract gear and flaps.
  • When ready to land, the aircraft must be aligned such that the path they had drawn is completely vertical and in the center of the screen.
  • Once the aircraft is aligned to the runway, decrease the speed (Page Down) and lose thrust.
  • Increase flaps setting to 100%. This not only slows down the aircraft but also makes it difficult to steer.
  • For F-16 Falcon, the landing gear has to be extracted using the “G” button.
  • Slowly move the cursor upwards so as to bring the aircraft down. The altitude and the speed should be kept track of. If the aircraft is not slow enough, the plane will crash-land. For the F-16, 260 knots will be the maximum ideal speed.
  • When the aircraft is around a 100 feet off ground, the descent must be done very carefully. This is the tricky part where the aircraft mostly crashes. Users will have to nose down very gently. The plane is likely to bounce off a little bit, but again it should be angled down very slowly.
    landing flap setting image
  • In case of a crash, a box appears giving the users options to either exit the flight simulator or to resume flight. Exiting will quit the simulator, and resuming will revive the simulator right above where it crashed.
  • If the plane didn’t crash, the landing was successful. But if the aircraft is still moving, press down both “,” and “.” Keys together and the aircraft should slowly come to a halt.


A list of all the keyboard controls and shortcuts for Windows, Linux and Mac systems are provided below. The keys and mouse controls are very sensitive and to avoid crashing, users should try getting used to these controls after reaching a decent level of height.

COMMAND Windows/Linux Keystrokes Mac Keystrokes
Exit Flight Simulator Ctrl + Alt + A / Esc ⌘ + Option + A / Esc
Open Flight Simulator Ctrl + Alt + A ⌘ + Option + A
Rotate Pilot Viewpoint Alt + Arrow / Ctrl + Arrow Alt + Arrow / Ctrl + Arrow
Display Help Ctrl + H  
Increase Thrust Page Up Page Up
Decrease Thrust Page Down Page Down
Elevator Pull Down Arrow Down Arrow
Elevator Push Up Arrow Up Arrow
Aileron Left Left Arrow Left Arrow
Aileron Right Right Arrow Right Arrow
Rudder Left Insert / Shift + Left Arrow Shift + Left Arrow
Rudder Right (Num Pad) Enter / Shift + Right Arrow (Num Pad) Enter / Shift + Right Arrow
Trim Nose Up End / Shift + Down Arrow End / Shift + Down Arrow
Trim Nose Down Home / Shift + Up Arrow Home / Shift + Up Arrow
Reduce Flap Left Bracket / Shift + F Left Bracket / Shift + F
Increase Flap Right Bracket / F Right Bracket / F
Center Aileron & Rudder C C
Retract/Extract Landing Gear G G
Left Wheel Brake , (comma) , (comma)
Right Wheel Brake . (period) . (period)
Pause Simulation Space Space
Toggle HUD H H

Google Earth Flight Simulator is a fun way to discover terrains and cruise through locations everywhere and anywhere around the world along with a realistic experience of flying a plane. Users can actually experience the technical aspects and proper controls required to fly a plane.

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