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GE (Google Earth) Flight Simulator: A Review

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by , 04-25-2011 at 03:49 AM (24590 Views)

I was quite shocked when I found out about GE (Google Earth) Flight Simulator, a free flight simulator developed single-handedly by Dutch programmer Xavier Tassin. I first found about it in an announcement over at Here's the link to that announcement, which contains a little intro about it as well, portions of which I will paste in this note:

GE Flight Simulator is all about the fun of flying in the beautiful sceneries of Google Earth. It is simple and straight forward and yet a "real" flight simulator. It is easy to get started as GEFS runs in your web browser and only requires to install the Google Earth plug-in. It is free, runs online and is always up to date.

Where GEFS makes a real difference compared to traditional flight simulators is the ease of use: you can get started in seconds and enjoy a quick flight anywhere you want. Coupled to the Google location search, the map and runway database, it is really easy to discover new places every time. It is great fun to visit strange and remote airfields, some of which are reported in the GEFS blog. Taking-off from an altiport in the Alps or flying over the South Pole really are exhilarating experiences. GEFS is really just about the fun of flying, in beautiful places, without the hassle of complicated configuration or long loading times. Although, it is technically limited compared to MSFS, X-Plane or FlightGear, flight models are quite realistic and it is clearly simulation oriented.

GEFS offers some pre-set destinations to start with. Not all places in Google Earth come with the same resolution or photo quality but this selection tries to focus on some nice ones. Just try flying in the Alps: the visual quality of the landscape is just stunning and it's a very good playground for the Alpha Jet. For amazing cityscape, the US probably comes first with places like New York or San Francisco. But the old continent is keeping up and it is just fantastic to fly over Florence or Athens for example.

GEFS comes with a scant collection of 8 aircraft:

* Piper J-3 Cub
* Douglas DC-3
* Dassault-Dornier Alphajet
* Sportstar (Ultralight)
* Sopwith Camel
* McDonnell Douglas MD-11 in FedEx livery
* Hughes 269/TH-55 helicopter
* Major Tom: a functional hot air balloon

So, is GE Flight Simulator the Future of Cloud-based Multiplayer Civilian Flight Simulation? My guess is, it may well be the nucleus of something big in the flight simulation circles. Think about it--this is web-browser-based, which means you can jump right into the sim anytime, anywhere, provided you have a decent machine and a broadband internet connection, and fly with other flightsimmers around the world. The first time I tried it out a few days ago, I was initially skeptical at what I was about to experience, thinking it would be just a more fancy version of the hidden/easter egg flight sim that comes with Google Earth itself. But I was quite surprised to find out how robust an application it is considering it's still in such an obvious "alpha" state.

I first flew a few of the aircraft using the keyboard. At first I doubted if I could even control the aircraft reliably, thinking that perhaps I'd encounter "arcadish" behavior. But it was almost as good as MSFS' keyboard controls, though I won't recommend doing aerobatics with it. Using the keyboard for flight control works especially well with the heavier aircraft like the DC-3 or the MD11. I then tried to fly the planes using a mouse, and sure enough, it behaved almost exactly like X-Plane's mouse control option--quite smooth and responsive. The only annoying drawback is that when you try to move your mouse to click on some menu options, the aircraft responds to THAT mouse movement, putting your aircraft in a very bad flight attitude! The only solution to this is to pause the sim when you want to move the mouse pointer to a menu option, which is kind of disrupting. I then tried using a generic CDR King joystick, and initially run snag into some issues. One is required to download a java-based plugin that allows for joystick control. I downloaded and installed it, but it couldn't detect my joystick. Eventually I realized that the plug-in required one to install some Visual C++ Runtime modules, so after installing that, joystick control was available, and that's when I really enjoyed flying the aircraft in the sim. Take note that yes, it's almost impossible to fly the Hughes chopper without a joystick, because you really have to have a separate control axis for the torque (i.e. rudder controls).

Now on to some scenery issues. The thing is, even though Google Earth has this huge collection of photorealistic scenery of the surface of the earth, most of this comes in small "patches" of satellite photos, and the sometimes if the satellite photos of a certain area is comprised of several different patches, with differing hue and contrast values, then the result can be quite psychedelic. One good example I can give is Honolulu International Airport at Oahu Island. Part of the runways are shaded quite dark, because that area uses a different "patch" of satellite images that are darker than the others. Another issue with web-based scenery is, since the data is being streamed live (i.e. scenery appears "on demand"...if you're in the area, more detailed scenery is streamed from the Google Earth servers, to provide you with more detail), if there is a lot of data (i.e. textures for buildings, objects etc) like say, for downtown Paris, then it sometimes takes a painfully long time before the objects and buildings materialize, and sometimes the act of loading these objects also creates stutters or significant drops in the frame rate while you're flying over that densely textured area. Finally, the most annoying thing about using DEM data for elevation, as per my experience in scenery and airport designing in MSFS, is that sometimes, the changes in elevation cross runways, causing hilly undulations (sometimes ramp-like)! Now, it may be true that in real life, real runways do have some slight depressions and rises, but I think they are quite exaggerated in GEFS, due to the Google Earth DEM data. Thus, it's sometimes challenging, even downright scary, to land in runways that have huge bumps in the middle!

Now on to some bugs. There are minor graphics issues such as strange artifacts appearing around the aircraft, or when switching views while in external views, parts of the aircraft like the landing gear, airbrake panels, etc, sort of does a flipping out (i.e. rotation motion, swinging in and out motions)! In the case of the Alphajet, it loses its nosecone when you view it from the front in external (follow) view, some kind of clipping issue. As to the flight model/performance, the most obvious is aircraft behavior when parked or when you just landed and are trying to taxi around the tarmac. Sometimes you cannot achieve full stop (ground brakes don't seem to work), or when you do manage to stop (sometimes hitting the "E" key, which turns off the engine, helps), there is still a slight "sliding" motion that occurs, making your aircraft seem as if it just parked on a very slippery oil slick Finally, I think this is a "normal" phenomenon in online multiplayer flying, but there are occassions when aircraft flown by other people "jump around" or do "warp" and "ghost" motions across the sky--perhaps this is directly tied to bandwidth and internet speed issues.

Despite all these issues, considering that this whole project is being done, for free by ONE person (Xavier), then I think the potential for this sim is really huge. Why do I say and believe in this? Well, take a look at this image:

The animated image above shows SubLogic's Flight Simulator v1.0, when it was first released for the Apple computer, sometime in 1981. Notice how flight simming has come a long way since that time. I have come from that time period and have experienced the crude flight sims of the past, and I have witnessed how it has evolved through time. It is interesting to note that the original Flight Simulator was also started by ONE person (Bruce Artwick), and now, there are literally hundreds and thousands of people who belong to an "add on" community for MS Flight Sim and over a hundred professional developers helping out to make it a better simulator. Another comparison would be Orbiter Free Space Flight Simulation, which was started in 2000 also by one person, Martin Schweiger, now a community thousands of members strong.

Now take a look at GEFS' current state now, and consider the SOLO efforts of Xavier Tassin, and how much of the initial groundwork has been laid out already by him for this sim, and what more developments/enhanced features can be achieved if additional help from other flight simulation programmers can contribute to this effort. So I say, let's help Xavier by pulling other flight simulation enthusiasts into this project, and make it grow into a really great flight simulation. I really think this is possible, and will actively campaign for other flight simulation enthusiasts to join the GEFS community. Let's all help Xavier make this work!

I'll end this note with yet another video I made today which can be seen here:

I am truly inspired by this sim's potential, which is why I make these videos

Be sure to watch in HD!


Updated 04-25-2011 at 03:56 AM by rodsky



  1. tiolos's Avatar
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