Holding Pattern Entries Made Easy!


I’m sure all of you IFR types know the drill. ATC assigns you a holding pattern and it is up to you to enter that hold in one of three ways: parallel, direct, or teardrop. Which entry do you choose? Well it all depends upon your intercept angle with the holding pattern… or something like that. Truth be told, I have no idea! But wait, how can you fly a holding pattern if you can’t do the mental math to compute your entry? It’s quite simple really: I do it visually.

Holding Pattern

Holding Pattern

That’s right, I barely even think about my entry. I just visualize the holding pattern, look at it, and visualize the appropriate entry. It’s quite simple really, lets look at a typical holding pattern. There are three possible holding pattern entries, all of which depend on where our airplane will be after crossing the holding fix. The trick is to remember three simple rules; after passing the fix, if the airplane is:

  1. Inside the hold, perform a teardrop entry.
    Given the hold in the picture, if we approach the holding fix from the Northwest, then our airplane will be inside of the holding pattern (between the inbound and outbound legs).
  2. Outside the hold, perform a parallel entry.
    Again, look at the picture, if we arrive from the East, the airplane will be outside of the holding pattern. We must turn to our outbound heading (180 in this case) and begin a parallel entry.
  3. With the hold, perform a direct entry.
    This is the no-brainer. If you are heading in the same general direction as the inbound leg, just make that initial (in this case right) turn and fly the outbound leg.

This method sure beats doing a bunch of mental math whilst flying an airplane, and seriously reduces the chance of error. It is worth nothing that air traffic controllers don’t really care what kind of entry you make, so long as the airplane remains on the safe side (that’s the same side as the outbound leg). If you get all garbled up, just stick to the safe side and make it work!

I know holding patterns are a very abstract concept and can be difficult to envision. Please comment on this post if you need clarification on visually computing holding pattern entries.

Not easy enough for you? Try out my iPhone App: Hold Here which helps you compute holding pattern entries and even calculate a bug-out time!

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

27 Replies to Holding Pattern Entries Made Easy!

  1. Nice tips! I wish my instructor would have given me such a simple breakdown during my instrument training. :)

  2. BobMarche says:

    Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting

  3. All that stuff with pencils on the HSI never really helped me. This is much easier. Thanks!

  4. Mike says:

    This works, and works well but for your IR you have to be able to fly the correct entry every time and you’re only given 5º leeway.

    We get taught the HSI method, which is really very simple (and works on the RMI with teeny adjustment in thinking).

    1. Set the track needle on the HSI to the inbound track on the hold.

    2. Draw an imaginary line 20º from horizontal across the HSI (left side low for a standard hold, and this is easy because they’ve been kind enough to mark degrees around the HSI for you!)

    3. Where the track needle points is the entry you fly*

    *Smallest sector = offset (teardrop)
    Second sector = parrellel
    Rest = direct entry

    It’s quick, easy, doesn’t require any calculations or maths and, most importantly, it’s very accurate.

    Still, I can’t help from thinking that when accuracy isn’t a huge issue I’ll be using a method very much like yours to quickly sort out my entries – great little guide!


  5. sidhu says:

    Where were you 20 years ago – definitely cuts all the mental contortion action one has to go through as single pilot. Nice one.

  6. Mike Bennett says:

    This is exactly how I do it.. One of the best things I learned from my first IFR instructor.

  7. Chris531 says:

    I understand the hold ENTRY, but what is killing me is trying to determine the “mental picture” of the actual racetrack when ATC says “Hold South on the 180 radial” My heading is 155 in this example

    WHAT DOES ATC SAYING “SOUTH” HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING? If you are flying the 180 radial, you can be either headed NORTH or SOUTH??

    Im lost

    • admin says:

      The compass direction is a bit of a redundancy. By South or Northwest, they mean for you to hold on that side of the fix.

      In your example, “Hold south of the 180 radial” means that the holding pattern will be along the south side of the holding fix. The inbound leg will be on a heading of 360. Assuming standard right turns, your heading of 155 means that you ought to fly a teardrop entry to this hold.

  8. Matt says:

    great tip! I went and brought a hold calculator because i was not confident of how to enter holds. Wish my instructor had taught me this way!

  9. Drew says:


    I just purchased your holding app. Excellent product with a very simple design. I am a CFI and use many apps for teaching different topics on Instrument procedures. I am actually teaching a student right now as we speak. Well actually, this is his second day of introduction to holding procedures. Your product has helped him to visualize the holds on a compass card. I taught him the raise the 20 degree side using the pencil method.
    I have one suggestion; on a teardrop and parallel hold we have an “intercept” heading either towards the IB leg (parallel) or OB leg (teardrop) of roughly 30 degrees. Any possibility you could include that “intercept” heading to show up on your application?

    Many Thanks,



  10. James Jones says:

    I use the moveable compass card on my ADF. I put the holding leg in the bottom and read the outbound course on top. The moveable compass allows me to visualize the holding pattern.

    Someone sells a little gizmo that does this, but if you have an ADF, you’ve got one in your plane, right in front of you.

  11. Rhys Spoor says:

    I am just getting ready for my IFR checkride and just found your website by doing a Google search. The information and task load at times seem a bit overwhelming especially since my plane has no autopilot and with fall we have had much more wind, but tips like these make the primary purpose of flying the plane easier to keep concentrating on. The concept of hold entries seems so clear on the ground and yet so cloudy in the air 😉 I can remember “after crossing the fix inside, outside or with” easily. This helps and thanks.


  12. Andrew Skretvedt says:

    You are the MAN!

    The BEST explanation for making the entry decision I’ve yet seen. I’d read in a Richard Taylor book confirming that ATC doesn’t care exactly how you hold, so long as you stay within the airspace they’ve set aside for it. But since that reading, I’ve only encountered instructors who get perhaps a little overly pedantic about doing it the _right_ way, to the degree. These poor students try to do mental math while simultaneously trying to unpack a voice hold instruction, and there’s instant helmet fire.

    Watching holds approach on nav displays, your insight was beginning to suggest itself in my mind, but handn’t voiced itself yet. I found myself just instinctively “feeling” the right way to fall into the racetrack as it slid under the airplane icon from various orientations.

    My previous favorite trick absent a navigator display was using the thumb on the DG or HSI trick to mentally imagine the textbook 70-degree entry diagram appropriate to a left-turns or right-turns hold, then finding the outbound heading on the DG to see how the appropriate entry suggests itself. That was a great help, intuitive, but still required a little mental manipulation, just less.

    Your insight is about as close to effortlessly intuitive as it CAN get. It’s the formalization of the feeling I was getting watching the navigator display. It’s so obvious, it brings out the “why didn’t I think of that?” that is the hallmark of genius! Thanks.

  13. Douglas Lloyd says:

    The FAA sector diagrams based on “where you are coming from” are just confusing, and not what you see displayed on your HSI/RMI/etc. The easiest technique for me is to relate everything to HEADING with these simple rules:

    1. If the inbound holding course is within 70 degrees of your heading, you make a turn IN THE DIRECTION OF HOLDING (right or left as appropriate) to the outbound course.

    2. If the inbound holding course is NOT within 70 degrees of your heading, you make a turn IN THE SHORTEST DIRECTION to the outbound course.

    3. If you are CONVENIENTLY ALIGNED (your heading is within 45 degrees of the TEARDROP course), you fly the teardrop course outbound.

    The indices on your instrument makes it relatively quick and easy to determine these degree parameters.

  14. David Hansen says:

    I am doing my IFR training. This is about the most helpful way to visualize holding entry. I have been struggling with this for a while. Thank you.

  15. RDeMaria says:

    Ok guys. Question for you. FAA reading is “sector you are coming from” which means “heading” is irrelevant. correct? It should be based on course which is ground track which IS the sector you are coming from. What is yout take?

    • Well, believe it or not, the holding pattern entry doesn’t actually matter to ATC or the FAA. All the by-the-book entries are “recommended holding pattern entries.” It’s what you ought to do, but if you’re just a few degrees of, it won’t really make a difference to anybody else.

  16. Douglas Lloyd says:

    The whole purpose here is to turn in the correct direction WHEN AT THE HOLDING FIX right? So course and ground track don’t really apply…your heading is ALL that matters when you are at that one point in space. By the way, the technique I described in my 3 Sep 13 post relating direction of turn to heading is how the USAF teaches it.

  17. Thanks for the linkback.

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