PFPS Google Earth Tool is a free conversion utility that interfaces between US military Portable Flight Planning Software (which includes CFPS and FalconView) and Google Earth. With this utility, users can convert the following types of data into Google Earth with just a few clicks:
- FalconView Drawing (.drw) Files
- FalconView Local Point (.lpt) Files
- FalconView Threat (.thr) Files
- CFPS Route (.rte or .crd) Files
Users can also use the utility to create and edit waypoints, threats, and five different kinds of airspace. These objects are organized in a file folder and saved as a Google Earth Tool project file. With a single click, the entire project is converted into a .KML that can be loaded in Google Earth.
This tool allows pilots to quickly and easily visualize their flight-plan routes in Google Earth. It can also be used for airspace management, threat plotting and avoidance, and target/drop zone visualization.
In 2007 I was a C-17 copilot at McChord AFB, WA flying missions around the world. Google Earth was still an emerging technology at the time, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could preview low level fights in Google Earth?” I looked under the hood of PFPS and discovered route files could be exported in XML, a plain-language data format that makes it easy to pass data between applications. I knew Google Earth also uses a variant of XML called KML to encode geographic data. It would be a simple matter of data conversion to make the programs talk together.
Within a few days I had PFPS routes in KML format and plotted in Google Earth. That was a big accomplishment, but I knew the real value would come when Google Earth could display all the geospatial objects pilots use, like airspace regions and threat plots. Over the subsequent months I sought out the file formats for these various objects and wrote KML converters. Then I packaged them into a nice visual interface.
I was the first to make PFPS and Google Earth talk to each other. The utility went into widespread use throughout the DoD, other government agencies, and even allied nations. However, there were limits to what I could accomplish working alone. The utility would never be certified for flight and was not easy to run on a government computer, so I was thrilled when the Institute for Information Technology Applications at the US Air Force Academy offered to take over the program. Under IITA’s leadership, the Warfighter’s Edge team expanded my project into an official DoD tool called WEdge Viewer. My code was also used as the basis for a computer science project for USAF cadets.