How to Track Flight Paths in Google Earth

Written by david ward
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How to Track Flight Paths in Google Earth
Google Earth can be used to track commercial planes currently in flight. (Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Google Earth is a free program that allows you to view satellite imagery of Earth. The program has a number of layers that enable you to see additional content, such as points of interest, photographs and buildings. In 2010, Google introduced a layer that allows you to track flights over the United States by downloading a file that is updated every few minutes. The flight paths are 15 to 20 minutes delayed due to FAA security restrictions, but are otherwise close to real time.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Download the KML file from Open the file. This opens Google Earth with the flight path layer added in the Places box on the left side of the screen.

  2. 2

    Locate the flight you are interested in tracking. The flight path layer displays current flights as blue icons of an aeroplane. To locate the flight, you need to have some idea where the flight is likely to be and click on the blue icons in that area. Clicking on the blue icon brings up the flight number as well as departure and arrival cities.

  3. 3

    Click on the icon of the flight you wish to track and select "Download Flightpath" from the dialogue box that appears. This downloads the full set of information available about that particular flight.

  4. 4

    Locate the box in the top left of the main screen in Google Earth. This box contains two sliders. The slider with three lines controls the time at which the flight is displayed. Move this slider left and right to track the flight path over time. The curved slider determines how much of the historical information about the flight path is displayed. Moving it to the left allows the entire flight path to be displayed. Moving it to the right displays only the current information about the flight's location.

Tips and warnings

  • To display multiple flight paths, download the information for several flights and move the curved slider to the far left. Then move the slider with three vertical lines left and right to visualise where each of the flights was during different times.

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