Foolproof and fast holding pattern entries

It’s just typical: you’re in hard IMC, doing five things at once, and suddenly Center radios you the dreaded holding instruction: “Skyhawk 1152Z, hold as published over the Paine VOR, maintain 4,000, expect further clearance 1530, time now 1510.” Not only are you incurring an unwelcome delay, but now you have one more task: figuring out the holding pattern and your entry.

I’ve heard of various tedious techniques to do this, including mathematical gimmicks, diagrams, odd little mnemonics, even a completely unnecessary clear-acetate template you can put over the Heading Indicator.  All these are overcomplicated and pointless.

Folks, you only need two things, and you’re unlikely to forget them at home: your two hands.  If you use your two hands, there’s really no need to overthink the entry for a holding pattern.

You’ll remember, of course, the typical book diagram for holding pattern entry:

Just put your hand like so, and notice how your fingers naturally approximate the 70 degree / 110 degree angles of the book diagram:

This is convenient!  The technique is utterly simple and takes longer to explain than to actually do.  Plus it doesn’t require you to fumble around in your flight bag or distract yourself from your first and most important task: flying the airplane.

  1. Point your aircraft at the holding intersection, VOR or NDB.  (You’d be doing this anyway so it almost doesn’t count as a step.)
  2. Use the heading bug to mark your assigned holding radial.
  3. Hold up your right hand (for standard right turns) or your left hand (for nonstandard left turns) and superimpose over the DG. The heading bug’s position tells you what kind of entry to perform. That’s it.  Quick and effective.

Use the left hand for nonstandard left turns.

Use the right hand for standard right turns.

Here are some examples, in all of which the VOR is directly ahead at 270.

“…hold east of the Anyplace VOR on the 090 radial…”

You bug 090 and see that this is clearly a direct entry.

“…hold north of the Anyplace VOR on the 010 radial, left turns…”

You bug 010 and see that this is a parallel entry.  (Just barely – if it were the 020 radial it would be right on the demarcation between parallel and direct.)

“…hold west of the Anyplace VOR on the 290 radial…”

You bug 290 and see that this is a teardrop entry.

“…hold south of the Anyplace VOR on the 185 radial…”

You bug 185 and see that this is a parallel entry.

Leave the fancy math and little accessories at home.  This is all you need to do to make this work quickly and clearly every single time.


7 thoughts on “Foolproof and fast holding pattern entries

  1. Thanks… Finally somebody with an easy and clear explanation that I don’t have to Fumble with going 150 knots

  2. I switch the hands. I use left hand for right hand patterns. And I leave my fingers sticking out so that they are parallel. That way the parallel fingers correspond to the parallel hold entry.

  3. CAUTION: one can hold EAST of a fix on a 090 radial, but one can also hold EAST of a fix on a 270 radial. So go by the OUTBOUND holding direction….. not always the radial.

  4. Good method unless you’re given a DME hold. Example: Hold East of 10 DME on 270 radial of XYZ VOR. What quick/easy method for determining entry do you use in this case?

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