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A Pilot's Waiting Area


What is a holding?

A holding is a (racetrack like) procedure, that enables you to wait, sort of hold your position at any altitude while airborne.
The reason(s) for the HOLD can be different. Here are some examples:

  •  Hold may be part of a published Instrument Approach
    (to simplify a Course Reversal for easy interception of the FAC; Timed Approach <> planes approach in sequence @ certain times)

  • ATC may require you to hold because of a 'traffic jam' in the air (Rush Hour at major Airports)

  • Can give you time to lose altitude -OR- dump fuel (immediate Ldg after departure required)

Your reference Holding Navaid can be a FIX from an IAP or any ENROUTE FIX, such as a VOR, WP, etc.

 A HOLD consists of ...


4 legs: 

  • 2 are known as the INBOUND & OUTBOUND course. (see picture)

  • other 2 connect the INBOUND/OUTBOUND legs (180° deg. turn @ Std. Rate),
    AIM refers to them as the Inbound/Outbound End 


How should a HOLD be flown? - The Objective

The goal is to make it a 1min (1:30min above 14.000FT) Inbound Leg, unless the OB/IB Legs are expressed in distances such as miles. For safety purposes, it is very important to stay on the Holding Side (OB course/Leg),
as this is the protected side.

How to fly a Holding-Pattern?

How to achieve the 1 Minute 'Inbound' Objective?
Start your Stopwatch whenever you Roll-Out on your IB-Heading or near completion of your OB-End Turn when you are about to intercept* the IB-Course to the FIX. Arriving at/over your FIX
(flag flips from 'TO > FROM') stop your Stopwatch. If it is not a ~ 1 min. IB-Leg, the Outbound-Leg may need to be adjusted.

IB-Leg = 1:15 Min > shorten the OB-Leg by about 10-15 sec., and stop your time again.

*you officially intercepted a course whenever you have positive course guidance,
which is reached when your (VOR-Needle) is within 1/2-scale deflection of your desired course.
In other words your needle must not show more than 1/2-scale deflection. So watch it closely as it travels towards center.   


How do stop time in the HOLD?

When you reach the Fix after your 'Entry Procedure' is completed, start a 180 degree turn to either the Left or Right, depending on what Holding-Radial ATC has assigned to you. You stop your time when you have completed the 180 turn (reaching your OB-Heading) or when you are abeam the FIX, whatever occurs first. After 1min. (or a given distances in miles) you will start another 180 degree turn to intercept the IB Course.
If all legs are properly flown, the full hold should take you about 4min to be completed.

What about Wind Correction?

If you have to correct for a X-wind, you usually triple the correction angle of the IB course and use this value in the opposite direction during the OB Leg.
For Example: If you must fly a 170 Hdg to maintain the 180° Radial from the Fix, that's a 10°
(deg). correction to the left. Thus → 10 x 3 = 30. So, your OB-Heading would normally be 360° (deg). Adding the correction of 30° (deg.) to the right, will give you a heading of 030.

Wind Correction in a Hold
How to enter a Hold - 3 Ways

How to enter the HOLD?

There's 3 different common (official) ways, depending on your approaching heading.


All of these entries will make sure, if flown correctly, that you are staying on the safe side (holding side) of the hold.

These entry procedures are recommended by the FAA, part of every IR course and therefore be used or complied with at all times, especially during your check-ride. For your knowledge, if you don't use them, for whatever reason, you won't fail the exam as long as you stay on the holding (protected) side while maneuvering for the Inbound & Final Approach Course. But this surely depends on your examiner.

So, for our own safety and unless otherwise requested, just try to stick to the recommended procedures at all times!

Comply with holdig Instructions

Holding Instructions

'N1234E hold 'NW' on the 340R ...'

What does that mean?

The Radial that ATC assigns you to hold on, is the Outbound Course/Leg. It's just a heading you must comply with for you OB-Leg (you might have to fly a slightly different heading though for Wind correction). The reciprocal of this heading (in this case = 160) would be Inbound Course leading to the holding fix.
The Holding Radial assigned by ATC is also the number that you use to figure out your Entry.

Suppose your current Hdg to the FIX was 150° (deg.) > A Direct Entry would be right choice.

TIP: Besides the Flight Sim you might have on your PC, the compass App on your Smartphone (Android/iOS) may be the easiest ways to practise the correct ENTRY.

Finding the best entry for my Approach Heading towards a Fix?

Pretend ATC will issue the following holding instructions:

'N1234E, hold 'NW' on the 340-Radial'

As ATC has not mentioned anything about turns in their instruction, and unless we won't get an amended clearance before reaching the Fix, we have to make Right Turns.

So what will we do next?

Since it's right turns, apply your right thumb at the spot as seen in the picture (dashed line). This will mark or cover an area of 20 degrees upwards (from the horizontal dashed red-line), so you can draw an imaginary line from the top of your thumb to the reciprocal heading as you can see with the blue line (330°-150°).
The blue line also represents the 70 degree straight-line as explained and drawn out in many books.


if your Holding Radial, in this case '340' is in the area below the continuous blue line, you should make it a DIRECT-Entry into the hold;

 if your Holding Radial is within the small sector between the continuous blue and the yellow dotted line, you should make a TEARDROP-Entry;

if your Holding Radial is within the bigger sector to the left of the yellow dotted and the continuous blue line, you should make a PARALLEL-Entry.


The Rectangular Dotted Triangle represents our thumb.

Is it always Right Turns in a HOLD?
Unless ATC says Left Turns, make Right Turns
(RT). RT are standard and therefore not mentioned in an ATC Holdd instruction. Besides, ATC might also say: "hold as published", in which case you just fly the HOLD as depicted on your chart.

If you had to make Left Turns in the HOLD ...

If that was the case, you would simply apply your thumb on the opposite of the Heading Indicator and draw an imaginary line again.


The Rectangular Dotted Triangle represents our thumb.

Pilot's protection in a HOLD

How is the Pilot protected in a HOLD?

Staying on the 'safe side' (holding side) will assure you the proper distance from other traffic, using the same Fix for navigational purposes. A minimum of 1000ft of obstacle clearance is also provided within the

Primary (holding) area, and 500ft within the secondary (buffer) area, which is 5nm wide.

From my experience ...
The most important important thing I would say, is to keep situational awareness of your
position at all times before and during the procedure. 

Holding Speeds & Altitudes

Holding Speeds & Altitudes

Maximum Holding Speeds are different depending on your Altitude.

Applicable Speeds should be established prior to reaching your Holding Fix as follows ...




Minimum Holding Altitude (MHA) – 6000ft = 200 kts


6001ft – 14000ft = 230 kts


14000ft and above = 265 kts


Other Speeds Restrictions may apply!

As previously stated, the Inbound & Outbound Leg must be flown for

1:30 min above 14000ft.

Holding Legs may also be expressed in miles.

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