Hold Pattern Orientation

I was uncertain how the new hold patterns were oriented, so I got together with a few other ATC’s, and we took turns controlling and flying to get a feel for how the worked. Here’s what we came up with…


Hold patterns can be setup referenced to a waypoint (airport or VOR location), or to your present location. In addition, to the location, left or right turns can be specified. Reference the diagram above for the following…

Here are a few bullet points to keep in mind…

  1. The straight legs of the hold pattern are always oriented north/south. (You’ll notice a slight tilt from straight up and down, probably due to the difference between true and magnetic north)
  2. For waypoint base patterns, the location of the waypoint (the small circles in the diagram) is always on the entry to the south turn . Notice that if it’s a right turn hold, the waypoint will be placed on the east side of the pattern (diagram on the left). Left turn pattern will be positioned with the waypoint on the west side.
  3. position based patterns are similar to the waypoint patterns except that the hold position is based on your location when the hold command was sent. Your location in the diagram above is again shown as small circles.

Keep in mind that you may either be located inside or outside the hold pattern, and may have to make a sharp turn in order to get oriented for the specified turns. Here’s what I mean…

Say you’re flying west, and you’re given a present position hold with left turns… From the diagram above, you can see you’ll be flying out of the hold, and will have to make a 180, in order to fly the pattern. On the other hand, if you’re flying west, and you’re told right turns, you’ll be inside the hold, and will have to make a turn to the right in order to line up on the straight leg.

Waypoint holds are a mixed bag, and are entirely a function of you’re distance and heading to the waypoint. Same holds true, though… The heading you’re told to fly will point you to the small circles, but when you get there, you may be able to smoothly enter the pattern, or you may have to make a sharp turn to enter it.

I hope this helps.


Great tutorial Gary! Great for pilots unfamiliar with the new procredure.

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I needed this so I’d know where they were being placed When I used them on approach!


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Expanding on my example above, flying west, and given present hold left turns… If you turn north, it will require a 270deg turn to enter the pattern, where this turn is outside the pattern. If you’re given right turns, you make a 90deg turn to the north and intercept the straight leg, where your turn is inside the pattern. I wanted to emphasize that you’re not always going to be on or inside the pattern when you get the hold command.

One more point… If you’re given a waypoint hold, you could be many miles away from the hold!

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