Hold Entries Revisited

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Two almost foolproof methods and a test of some hold-entry gadgets, two of which actually work.

For reasons having a little to do with human failings and a lot to do with the FAA, remembering how to enter a hold correctly requires a level of effort that's disproportionate to the importance of the task. It's like learning parallel parking for a driver's test. You practice, get good at it, show the examiner you can do it, and then promptly forget about it.

It should be (and once was) a lot simpler. Back in beginning (pre-1961) before there were FAA-recommended entries, a pilot simply flew to the holding fix, turned in the shortest direction to the outbound course and then proceeded with the racetrack pattern. Nobody much worried if the turn was a little longer than the shortest possible. At DC-3 speeds, the airplane wasn't likely to blunder far enough to cause much trouble before things got sorted out.

Jets changed the picture. Higher speeds translated to larger turn radii and where a relatively slow airplane could could lumber into the hold within a few miles of the fix, a 707 needed a lot more airspace. One of the FAA's responses to this was larger holding patterns graduated by altitude and the three pattern entry methods every instrument student must learn and master. The theory was that if pilots had a uniform procedure for entering holds, they'd be less likely to blow the entry and thus precious airspace would be conserved.

Of course, the theory ignores that fact that many general aviation airplanes still cruise at less than DC-3 speeds but, by in large, the hold entries do work. The problem is remembering them or at least not letting them get in the way of a method that does work.

Just turn outbound

The AIM not withstanding, some instructors still teach the best way to enter a hold is the original way, which is to simply fly to the fix and turn in the shortest direction to the outbound course. The shortest turn back to the fix will get the pilot established in the racetrack pattern in fairly short order. Flight examiners might not approve of this technique for checkride purposes but how often have you had a DE along when you've been assigned a real-life hold? Besides, it's easy to remember.

In practice, all you have to do is fly directly to the holding fix, make the turn outbound and fly for a minute or so before turning back toward the fix. If you know you've got a strong headwind or tailwind, adjust your timing to suit the conditions. Curiously, the turn-to-the-outbound technique often results in the equivalent of the teardrop, parallel or direct entry. The exception is when you're approaching the fix already on the correct heading for the outbound course. In this case, you'll cross the fix aligned with the inbound course but going in the opposite direction. To get turned around, the AIM would have you initiate a parallel or teardrop entry. However, if you're using the turn-to-the-outbound method, simply cross the fix then head back to it with a turn toward the holding side of the course. Once back at the fix, commence the racetrack. This method—which is kind of a reverse teardrop—isn't quite as neat as the AIM-approved teardrop, but it'll work.

Suppose you get confused and turn the wrong way? This shouldn't be cause for panic, at least for a pilot in a slow airplane. As shown at direction, the protected area around a published hold is much larger than the holding pattern itself. And the higher the altitude, the larger the protected area. So unless you're in a very fast airplane, there's plenty of airspace to get reestablished.

DG as crutch

Some pilots can visualize a holding entry only by sketching it right on the chart. That's certainly an option, albeit an awkward one. Another way to accomplish the same thing is to put the DG or HSI to work as a visual aid. Even pilots who busted pattern analysis on their aptitude tests can manage this one.

Step one, as shown in the drawing, is to divide the DG into segments that correspond to teardrop, parallel and direct entries. To do this, strike an imaginary line across the face of the instrument that's 70-degrees off the vertical. (Or 20 dgerees of horizontal, if your prefer)

For standard turns to the right, the right side of the line should be angled upward (as shown). For left turns, the left side should be angled upward. Another imaginary line extends downward from the DG's lubber line to the angled line, dividing the upper half of the instrument face into two segments. Next, get established on a heading towards the holding fix, be it a VOR, NDB or intersection. To determine the entry type, just read the numbered radial or bearing specified in the holding clearance along the outer ring of DG compass card. If the radial falls in the teardrop sector of your imaginary DG segments, use a teardrop entry; if in the parallel sector, use that type of entry and so on.

If you're holding at an NDB, make sure you're clear on whether the bearing given is TO or FROM the beacon. Published NDB holds over approach fixes usually depict the inbound course so if the DG-crutch method is to work in this instance, plug in the reciprocal along the DG's card.

Although this method is nearly foolproof, you do need to remember which direction to turn to both begin the entry and to intercept the inbound course. One trick is to visualize the inbound course as a line extending from the outside of the compass card to the center of the DG. It should then be obvious which way to turn to start the entry.

Cheap tricks

If all else fails, you can always buy one of the gadgets meant to simplify hold entries. A $20 bill will buy a nice selection, making them about the cheapest things the would-be Compleat Pilot can own.

The simplest are the standard plastic chart plotters. In addition to having several mileage scales and compass roses, these have holding patterns (and their entries) printed right on them. Jeppesen makes one called the PV-5 for its charts, Sporty's sells one of its own for NOS charts. Both are under ten bucks.

The principle is not terribly hard to grasp. You simply place the holding pattern over the fix, correctly oriented on the holding course and with the turns in the correct direction. Once you've figured out your heading to the fix and thus your position, the plotter tells what type of entry to use. The scales not withstanding, I think the Sporty's version works better for hold entries. The pattern is larger and bolder than the Jeppesen, which fades illegibly into the clutter around the fix. If you're a Jeppesen user, the Sporty's plotter does have three of the common scales found on Jepps enroute charts.

One thing the plastic plotters don't do is tell you the inbound and outbound courses. Jeppesen has an answer to that, too. For $7.95, it's a little circular computer that looks kind of like one of those cheap E-6Bs. You dial the inbound course into a clear plastic window then read the type of entry underneath along an outer ring, where the inbound holding course is also displayed. The device also displays the correct entry heading once you've hit the fix and the outbound heading as well.

It's an excellent teaching aid but I found that it has one confusing flaw. The instructions say "set inbound course of holding pattern from chart or controller." Unfortunately, controllers don't generally give the inbound, they give a cardinal direction and/or a specific radial:"Hold southwest on the 220 radial." Sure, I can get the inbound by noodling the reciprocal but if I'm going to use a crutch for this stuff, I want it do everything.

The simplest gadgets are the often the best and that's certainly true with holding entry aids. The Holdicator is nothing more than a piece of clear, static-cling plastic with a holding pattern's outbound turn silk-screened on it. Once you're inbound to the fix, you're supposed to stick it right to the glass of the DG, with the Holdicator's inbound course aligned with the cardinal direction or radial given in the clearance. It's then child's play to read the type of entry and entry heading right on the DG. The Holdicator has little symbols to indicate whether a teardrop or parallel entry is required but these really aren't necessary. The entry type is quite easy to visualize once you know the aircraft's relationship to the pattern.

When it's not in use, you can leave the Holdicator plastered to the DG or, if that's a bother, stick it on the storm window or some other out-of-the way place. A real bargain, the Holdicator costs $2.95 from Nelson Aviation Products, Box 2889, Littleton, Colo. 80161, or Aviation Training Center, 7201 Perimeter Road S., Seattle, WA 98108, postage paid.

Editor's Note:

For more, see "A Controller's View of Holding" by Paul Berge.