Holding Patterns Revisited – Holding South or North of a Fix


Chris, an AviationChatter reader asked a great question about holding patterns:

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 155º in this example.

What does ATC saying “south” have to do with anything?

Well Chris, the compass direction “south” doesn’t have much to do with your holding pattern at all. It’s just extra language to clarify the hold and help you, the pilot, visualize the proper holding pattern.

So, what does “hold south” have to do with our holding pattern? Simple answer: the inbound and outbound legs (that is, the majority of the holding pattern) must be south of the holding fix.

Hold South of the 180º radialSuppose you are entering a standard holding pattern on the 180º radial. That means you are flying 360º inbound legs. And let’s keep this nice and simple by supposing that you are on a 360º heading.

Look at the image to the right. Notice that most of the holding pattern is located to the south of the fix? Our friendly air traffic controllers might have issued this clearance by stating “Hold south of the BNA 180º radial.” Then again, they may have simply asked you to “Hold on the 180º radial.”

So Why Explicitly State the Compass Direction?

Our friends in ATC will usually provide a compass direction to prevent confusion between radials and inbound legs. Heres’s a common mistake. The pilot reads back instructions to hold on the 180º radial, but fails to realize that the 180º radial extends from the station. Instead of flying a 360º inbound leg, the pilot spins the CDI to a course of 180º.

This changes everything. The airplane flying the wrong way and well out of the “safe side” of the holding pattern! Notice that the holding pattern is on the north side of the hold and requires a parallel entry. Had ATC asked the pilot to “hold south,” our unfortunate aviator might have realized his error.

Back to the question

Planning your entry to a holding patternSo back to your question, if ATC asked you to “hold south on the 180º radial” and you are flying a heading of 155º, you should fly a teardrop entry to the holding pattern pictured on the right.

Notice that I am assuming standard right turns as ATC did not specify a direction.

I generated a few more examples to clarify things below.



Hold East of the 090 Radial, Left Turns

"Hold east of the 090º radial, left turns"

Hold northeast of the 045 radial.

"Hold northeast of the 045º radial."

Hold southwest of the 225º radial

"Hold southwest of the 225º radial"

I created all these images with Hold Here, an iPhone app that computes holding pattern entries and bugout times.

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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.

One Reply to Holding Patterns Revisited – Holding South or North of a Fix

  1. Martin says:

    I just answered this, I think. The Holding Entry’s are RECOMMENDED entry’s. They are not LAW, they are recommended. You use the entry you seem fir for the as long as your safe, don’t overshoot the protected side of the hold.Fly the hold as published, IE left turns 1 minute turns. Don’t fret it too much, as long as you can come up with an entry that will work and that is safe.

    The best way of doing it is to set your inbound course already for the inbound course in the hold. Then have a lock on your heading and HSI where you’re coming from and see what would be the best entry now.
    Using this step makes your life easy.

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