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IFR Fix: How to stump a CFII

It’s one of those days when it would have been easier to go VFR.

Figure 10-4 from the "Instrument Flying Handbook" depicting a standard holding pattern with no wind. Image courtesy of the FAA.

The route you usually fly to this frequent destination isn’t available, a surprise that resulted in a shaky performance as you copied down the clearance that came through instead.

In another twist, your instructions included a clearance limit. And there’s more bad news: There’s no published holding pattern at the clearance-limit fix.

If this improbable scenario sounds suspiciously like a fiction fabricated for a proficiency check, that’s exactly what it is. Probably you can expect to fly a couple of turns around that holding pattern—whatever it may look like—before you can continue on course.

When was the last time you had to copy and fly a holding pattern you couldn’t review in advance?

Fortunately, you can anticipate most of its components. As the Instrument Procedures Handbook explains, “Each holding pattern has a fix, a direction to hold from the fix, and an airway, bearing, course, radial, or route on which the aircraft is to hold. These elements, along with the direction of the turns, define the holding pattern.”

In practice, one of these items is sometimes specified, sometimes not, in the holding instructions. Your instrument instructor asks which one it is.

You are ready with the answer from the Instrument Flying Handbook: “A standard holding pattern uses right turns, and a nonstandard holding pattern uses left turns. The ATC clearance always specifies left turns when a nonstandard pattern is to be flown.”

Now you have a question of your own, you tell the CFII.  It’s something you have often wondered about.

“Why does a standard holding pattern use right turns?’

Don’t be surprised if your holding instructions “arrive” at this moment, or if your CFII suddenly fails a radio or creates some other distraction.

When a reader posed that same innocent-seeming question, answers proved scarce. So it seemed appropriate to seek guidance from official powers that be.

This was the response: “You got me on this one. I’ve looked through every document/order/handbook I can think of. Holding was first introduced into ICAO in a holding panel back in 1949, and formalized into ICAO documents in 1952. But in looking through, none indicated why right was chosen to be the standard for holding pattern.”

Buy any CFII a cup of coffee who can explain why it’s right to turn right.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: IFR, IFR

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