Instrument Rated Pilot Ground School
Holding Patterns - BRIEFING
In this lesson you'll learn about flying a holding pattern at a VOR
ESTIMATED TIME TO COMPLETE
Complete the Student and Private Pilot lessons before beginning this
lesson. Reading the Ground School material before starting this lesson will
help you better understand the skills being taught. You should also complete
the reading and practice in the Instrument Scan solo lesson. Completing the
VOR or ILS approach lessons is not required. You may also want to complete the
holding pattern solo lessons soon after taking this lesson to learn more about
the three ways of entering a holding pattern.
You'll encounter mostly cloudy conditions with some rain. You will need to
fly the aircraft referring only to the instruments.
No charts are needed for this lesson. However, the Snohomish County Airport
VOR approach chart may be helpful reference. Note that it helps provide
frequencies and orientation information, but does not show the track of your
ABOUT THE FLIGHT
You'll start this flight in the air at 4000 feet. You will enter a holding
pattern, make a complete circuit, and then continue practicing the holding
pattern as long as you want. (Press Escape when you want to end the
lesson.) Your instructor will help you set the navigation radios and
You will need to use either the aircraft clock or another timing device for
the timed portion of the holding pattern.
KEY COMMANDS TO REMEMBER
Shift + 3 to bring up the GPS unit
You'll be asked to maintain:
- Airspeed within 10 knots as assigned
- Altitude within 100 feet as assigned until established on the glide
- Headings within 10 degrees as assigned
- Bank within 10 degrees of a standard rate turn, referenced by the Turn
and Bank Indicator
Holding Patterns - LESSON
—by Rod Machado
You already learned how to fly a traffic pattern in a previous lesson. So
what's the difference between flying a traffic pattern and flying a holding
pattern? Well, you noticed that when you were flying a pattern, it was
something you did visually. The hold patterns you will learn in this class are
done exclusively during instrument flying.
When an airline captain comes over the intercom and says, "Umm...
looks like we're gonna have to hold here for a while," you probably groan
and think, "Great. A delay." Well you know more about instrument
flying than you think you do, because that's exactly what holding is designed
to do: delay an aircraft. An airplane can't just pull over to a rest area when
ATC needs to delay its arrival somewhere because of traffic congestion or
weather conditions. So the controller tells the pilot to fly a holding
Hold That Pattern!
A standard holding pattern looks like an oval racetrack anchored at a
holding fix—a VOR, nondirectional radio beacon (NDB), or intersection—as
shown in Figure 3-1.
The two straight legs are called the inbound and outbound legs. In a standard
holding pattern, you make all turns to the right (nonstandard patterns,
therefore, have left turns). All turns should be at standard rate. How long are
the legs of the pattern? Long enough so that flying the inbound leg will take
about one minute. Wind will affect the leg length—so if there's wind, you need
to adjust the length of the outbound leg so the next inbound leg will also take
Actually, flying a holding pattern is pretty easy, but figuring out how to
enter one is something most pilots dread. To keep airplanes within protected
airspace, the FAA recommends specific entry methods. Which entry method to use
depends on your heading when you initially cross the holding fix.
Use a direct entry when approaching the holding fix in the same direction as
the inbound leg (area C in Figure 3-2) .
Fly to the fix and turn right (for a standard holding pattern) or left (for a
nonstandard holding pattern), and proceed with the holding pattern.
Use a parallel entry when approaching the holding fix in the opposite
direction as the inbound leg and ending up outside the racetrack after crossing
the fix (area A in Figure 3-3).
Turn parallel to the inbound course, fly outbound for one minute, and then
turn toward the racetrack to intercept the inbound course. Return to the fix,
and proceed with the holding pattern.
Use a teardrop entry when approaching the holding fix in the opposite
direction as the inbound leg but ending up inside the racetrack after crossing
the fix (area B in Figure 3-4).
At the fix, turn toward the racetrack to a heading that's 30 degrees off the
outbound-leg heading. Hold that heading for one minute, and then turn in the
opposite direction to intercept the inbound course. Return to the fix, and
proceed with the holding pattern.
Sound complicated? Most pilots think so. Luckily, a simple, direct entry is
the most common entry type, since a controller will usually tell you to hold as
you approach an intersection along your route of flight. Practicing holds is a
great way to exercise your instrument flying skills, and should the day come
when a controller tells you to hold, you'll know what to do. Right now, click
the Fly This Lesson Now link to practice what you just learned. Then,
strut your stuff for the examiner in the Instrument Rating Checkride. Good Luck!
THIS LESSON IS AVAILABLE IN THE ACTIVE FLIGHT