• Google Earth Flight Simulator

    Flying The Google Simulator

    By Derek G. Swanson (9 September 2007)

    The flight simulator in Google Earth version 4.2 is not to be compared to the current breed of flightsim software but it's not bad either.

    First, an overview. You get two planes, an F16 (default) and an SR22, each using the same fairly comprehensive HUD. There's no external view, 2D or virtual cockpit. You can choose to fly from a set of airports with the default being Kathmandu, or from anywhere you choose. The flight controls can be operated by keyboard, mouse or if fitted to your PC, a joystick. The flight dynamics are very sensitive and unstable, so mouse and keyboard flying means lots of rolling and pitching. For example, once a climb, descent or turn is started, you must actively apply opposite control to attain and maintain a particular angle and it's difficult not to over-correct. While not unrealistic, the degree of control instability and inertia is taxing.

    The HUD is quite comprehensive as the screen shot shows. The compass is at the top with the attitude indicator (pitch and bank) in the center flanked by tapes for the airspeed indicator (left) and altitude (right). There is a small numeric vertical speed indicator, but with the control sensitivity and instability the altitude tape doubles as a VSI. Pitch attitude is shown by markers at 5° intervals which follow you throughout a 360 loop. The bank attitude marker helpfully switches from top to bottom when you're inverted. At the bottom left of the HUD are control surface indicators for elevator, aileron, rudder and throttle. My Saitek 4 axis stick picked up all of these controls correctly. Markers for flaps and gear appear above the control surface indicators when activated. The word "GEAR" appears on lowering the undercarriage and it disappears on retraction. The word "FLAPS" appears in similar manner, showing flap extension in 20% stages from 0 to 100%. Both aircraft have flaps but only the F16 can lower the gear as the SR22's is fixed.

    Before starting the simulator for the first time there are a couple of options you may wish to set. Selecting the options tab on the tools menu opens a small dialogue box with five tabs. On the "General" tab, you may wish to select miles and feet for the altitude rather than the default kilometres. On the "Navigation" tab you can tick the box "Enable Controller" to use a joystick which detects the joystick and disables the mouse input. You'll also want to print off the keystrokes from the "Help" menu as there are several functions like flaps, gear, brakes, etc. operated by keyboard only.

    OK, now time to fly. Starting the simulator for the first time can be a bit of a pain. It's supposed to be Ctrl+Alt+A to open the initial dialogue box but Ctrl+windows+A can work. Ctrl+A alone will take you straight into the simulator screen in the F16 at ground level at Kathmandu or the last place you visited on Google Earth. Whichever way you get in first, exiting is easy as there is an exit button at the top right of the screen and selecting the options menu shows a toggle to re-enter or exit the simulator. I found that once I'd opened the simulator a few times this option remained in the menu.

    To take off and fly, follow the usual method of power up, estimate a suitable Vr and pull back gently. Over zealous rotation takes you into a near vertical climb. The aircraft will stall if the angle of attack and airspeed combination is right, but losing speed in the F16 is difficult. Adding flaps at 450 kt is not usually recommended but needed in this sim, as closing the throttle doesn't induce much deceleration. The flight model doesn't follow a realistic pattern as you must have some non-level attitude dialled in to ascend or descend. Altering the throttle alone doesn't induce climb or descent.

    Landing is like take-off in that you need to take care with inputs. The plane will detect a crash if you descend into the ground too quickly and knowing the altitude of the terra-firma you're aiming for is essential to avoid a crash. If you get it right however, the plane will settle on the ground and you can apply the brakes. You can land or take-off anywhere, including areas that are obviously water, because the sim makes no distinction in the textures. The planes will also taxi quite happily across any textures, following climbs and drops.

    Talking of textures, as with most flightsim software, on the ground, all around is very fuzzy, although the mesh does show the bumps and dips, but once airborne with a little altitude, the textures come nicely into view.

    So how does it rate? Well as ever it depends on what you want. As a regular simmer I won't be uninstalling my usual sim software but for a little tour over your next proposed holiday destination or perhaps planning a day's walking it could prove useful.

    Derek G. Swanson
    [email protected]


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