Holding and Holding

No, not in football or fútbol. A post over at OldNFO’s place reminded me of that dreaded thing in aviation, the holding pattern. The place you go to collect your thoughts, make further plans, or burn time and gas when landing and parking is not an option.


For those not involved in aviation, holding patterns were devised back in the days before radar and transponders were common (or even present). Planes flew at an assigned altitude to a navigation beacon, and then flew in circles around said beacon. Over time, as the skies grew busier and the need to keep planes from colliding became more pressing, set patterns developed, with rules as to how to enter them, where you were protected and where you risked finding one of those ‘clouds with a crunchy middle,” (aka cumulus granaticus), and how to depart them. Speed limits also developed to keep people in roughly the same county (or country) as the navigation beacon.

Holding patterns are where you as a pilot would prefer not to end up. It generally means there is a delay for some reason, often due to weather, sometimes due to congestion at rush-hour, or an obstruction on the runway. “King Air 123 Alpha Bravo, proceed direct to Milqtoast VOR and hold as published” or “hold on the one-eight zero radial” are words that rank down there with “we have an amendment to your route,” and “Contact Flight Service on 122.4, then report back and advise of intentions.”* They are phrases one does not want to hear.

I had to re-learn holding patterns. I was taught them incorrectly, and no one knew it until I was taking a charter pilot check-ride and fouled one up. When we got on the ground and de-briefed, it became apparent that the check pilot and I were talking across each other, so he grabbed a piece of scrap paper and told me to diagram how one flies a parallel entry into a holding pattern. I showed him what I’d been taught. I thought he was going to break the conference table, he pounded it so hard with his forehead. Bass-akward did not begin to describe it.

Now, keep in mind, three dimensional visualization is very difficult for me. Holding patterns require me to keep one finger on the chart as I maneuver the airplane and slow it or otherwise prepare to enter the hold, then start timing at the proper point, and do all those other things one does. While keeping an imaginary race-track pattern in my head with a little airplane on it to show where I am relative to the beacon.


*That means that the weather had gotten bad, really bad, or something else has closed the airport and you need to tell the controllers where you intend to go instead of your planned destination. In one case, I heard a controller bark that at a Beech Baron and add, “A tornado just ate Valentine” (Nebraska). The Baron opted to return to Ogallala, Nebraska.


6 thoughts on “Holding and Holding

  1. Was the guy who taught you ICAO instead of FAA? Because I’m still a little confused by the overseas standard holding pattern entry on the missed – especially parallel entry – as it’s not the same as the US standard.

  2. I heard a story from a colleague who was a recreational pilot, instrument rated (Cessna, then Mooney). An airliner pilot was instructed to make a 90° turn. He grumbled that it cost a thousand dollars to turn the plane around. The controller repeated the instructions, calling for a $500 turn.

  3. Ah yes, holding… First time was at NAS Pensacola, as an NFO student. Back seat of a T-2, IFR, raining, moderate turbulence. One TACAN approach to 7L, then sent to holding… for 20 MINUTES!!! 7 @#$#% laps around the holding pattern at 10K, low fuel lights, and arcing back to the runway while directing the pilot to get down to altitude for the approach fix… I was sweating that one for a number of reasons. And yes, ICAO and FAA ARE different… We always reviewed those closely when we preflighted overseas!

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