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How To Enter A Holding Pattern


One of the most challenging parts of holding is determining the correct hold entry on the fly. Fortunately, we have two tips you can use to make it easier.

But first, let's review the three types of hold entries to set you up for the perfect holding pattern.

Direct Entry

This is the simplest hold entry you'll fly. Fly direct to your holding fix, cross the fix, and turn to your outbound course. From there, join the holding pattern.

Parallel Entry

In this hold entry, fly to your holding fix and then turn outbound to parallel the course. Fly for 1 minute, then turn toward the protected side to intercept the inbound course (more than a 180 degree turn).

Teardrop Entry

The teardrop entry starts by crossing your holding fix, then turning 30 degrees from the outbound leg (towards the protected side). After flying outbound on the 30 degree heading for 1 minute, turn toward the inbound course and intercept the inbound course (more than a 180 degree turn).

Technically speaking, you have the discretion to enter the hold however you'd like, but the FAA recommends using the direct, parallel, or teardrop entry procedures to make your flying predictable. (AIM 5-3-12)

How To Determine Which Entry To Fly

Now that you know the types of hold entries, how do you determine which one to fly in the air? Fortunately, there are a few techniques to help reduce your workload.

The "Thumb Method"

To determine your holding entry with this method all you need is an HSI or heading indicator, and your thumb!

The direct entry zone is 180 degrees wide, the teardrop is 70 degrees, and the parallel entry zone is 110 degrees, trying to do the math in your head isn't all that practical. Luckily your thumb is roughly 20 degrees wide when placed against your HSI, helping you split up the zones correctly.

Step 1

If you are flying a holding pattern with right-hand turns (a standard pattern) use your right thumb. If you are flying a holding pattern with left-hand turns, use your left thumb.

Step 2

Determine the outbound course for the hold.

Step 3

Place your thumb on the 3 o'clock (right turns, right thumb) or 9 o'clock (left turns, left thumb) position on the HSI. Using the top of your thumb, draw a line across the HSI. This allows you to visualize the different sectors that correspond to each type of hold entry. (see graphic example below)

Step 4

Now that you've split up the HSI, find what section of the HSI your outbound course lies on, and plan to fly that entry.

Check out the holding entry graphic example below.

1) Right hand turns = right thumb.

2) Outbound course is 284 degrees.

3) Place your thumb on top of the 3 o'clock position on the HSI.

4) Mentally draw out the entry zones. In this example, 284 degrees lies within the direct entry zone on your HSI. Fly a direct entry after crossing REVME.

The great thing about using the thumb method is it keeps your head up (not looking at your kneeboard) and requires no mental math, decreasing your task saturation and increasing your situational awareness.

The "Draw It Out" Method

Another simple strategy is to draw out the hold on your EFB in relation to the fix you've been instructed to hold at. Draw a line from your plane (ownship) to your holding fix, and draw your holding pattern. From there, split up the zones, and fly the appropriate holding entry.

Check out the example parallel entry drawn out on ForeFlight below:

Want a deep dive on holding entries? Watch our video here.

Nicolas Shelton

Nicolas is a flight instructor from Southern California. He is currently studying aviation at Purdue University. He's worked on projects surrounding aviation safety and marketing. You can reach him at

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