By Mark O’Neill
The hidden flight simulator in Google Earth is not a new feature. But I had to delay trying it out as my computer last year was as fast as a constipated rabbit. However I now have a new computer so with the soundtrack of Top Gun playing in my head, I decided to go all Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards and feel the need for speed.
After trying it out, I have to say this is one of the coolest, if not THE coolest feature Google has ever given us. In fact, it’s so good I am seriously considering buying a joystick. I haven’t used a joystick for a computer game since my Commodore 64 days back in the 1980’s. The only drawback is that there is no sound in the flight simulator so you can’t hear the roar of the engines or Kelly McGillis screaming in delight at her naval aviators.
After starting up Google Earth, I activated the flight simulator by pressing CTRL + A. A lot of people claim the correct way to start it is CTRL + ALT + A but this does nothing but pop up menus. CTRL + A does the job immediately. You only have to do the key combo once though. After the first time, an option to start the flight simulator appears in your “tools” menu :
You then get the flight simulator menu where you can choose your plane and take off destination :
Now if you’re living your Top Gun fantasies, the only plane to have is the F16 and I decided I would terrorise Frankfurt International Airport with my reckless fly-bys. So after loading up, I suddenly found myself on the runway, ready to wreak havoc :
I found out that taking off was rather tricky (which is not exactly what you want to hear from the pilot). So I did what any struggling pilot would do. I sat in the cockpit enjoying the Frankfurt sunshine and I flicked through the official Google training manual on how to fly a F-16. Man, those guys at the Googleplex think of everything!
I finally realised that the “page up” button increased the thrust and the down arrow key made me take off. All was well – and I suddenly found myself up in the air. But no sooner was I up – than I was down again. I did a double-flip that would make Ice-Man green with envy – and then I crashed back onto the runway again.
Not willing to give up easily, I resumed the flight and after trial and error, I realised I could actually fly the thing!
But after a while, I realised that flying straight ahead on a normal steady course was about as interesting as watching the Home Shopping Channel. At the very least, where was the Soviet fighter to flip the bird to? So humming along to “Take My Breath Away”, I started to do flips, twirls, turns, ups, downs and sideways – before crashing again into a forest. I was suddenly thankful there were no Soviet fighters in the area as they would have crashed themselves from laughing at my dire flying skills.
So with a slightly bruised ego, I exited the plane and went to visit Digg instead! ;-)
The flight simulator controls are very difficult to master as they are very sensitive and the slightest wrong move sends the plane into an irreversible tail-spin. The fact there’s no sound means you can’t tell if you’re in trouble or not (a nice little feature would have been a control tower voice saying “you’re gonna crash! Pull up! Pull up!”. You also can’t see the cockpit controls.
So I hope Google continues to develop this nice little feature, as right now it’s a bit limited in its entertainment value. Add a bit of sound, some more planes, some more detail to the cockpit and they will have a winner on their hands.