Here is my recipe for learning how to fly holding patterns. Many Instrument Rating students get bogged down with this stage of training, and there are several good reasons go get bogged down here. One is that many students start trying to learn how to hold before they have really mastered scanning, tracking, and intercepting.
The best way to start is to go back to the concrete floor and the soup can method that I introduced in the last article. Start by placing the soup can at the junction of two perpendicular expansion lines. Start with an easy situation, such as holding on the north radial. Position yourself north of the soup can and walk through a direct entry. This goes even better if you have someone else reading clearances to you so that you can practice receiving the information that way. A sample clearance would be “November 1234S, cleared to the beanie-weenie VOR, hold north with right turns, maintain 3000, expect further clearance at 1200.” To break that down, the first part after your call sign is a new clearance limit. It doesn’t mean go direct to the VOR, but rather, don’t go any further than the VOR. “Hold north” means that your inbound leg will be over the 360 radial, and the altitude is obvious. The altitude and EFC obviously don’t matter on a concrete floor, but this exercise is about making good habits from the start. Read back your holding clearance to the “controller,” then walk yourself in a south direction until you reach the soup can. As you step over it, report entering holding. Say “November 1234S is entering the hold over beanie-weenie at 1130 and 3000.” The format for that report is call sign, entering hold at ______, time, and altitude. Some folks use a memory jogger of “PTA” for Position, Time, and Altitude. After passing the can, make a right turn, walk north parallel to your inbound radial, then turn right and intercept your radial again.
I can promise you that if you follow these instructions exactly, you will look very silly. It may be best to choose a location that is safe from ridiculing counterparts. I can also promise you that it will help you understand holding. Repeat the above exercise for holding situations of increasing complexity. Start by leaving the clearance the same, but by positioning yourself somewhere other than on the north radial. For example, try starting on each of the other cardinal radials. Think about which holding entry you should be using, and how you will figure that out with the information you’ll have in the airplane. I’ll leave it to you to find the method that works best, since there are several. Expand to positioning yourself in other positions, not just on the cardinal radials.
When you feel like all of that is too easy, mix it up a bit by moving the can away from the junction of two lines, so that it is instead on a single line. This simulates a holding clearance such as “hold on the beanie-weenie 180 radial 15 mile fix…” Think of how you’ll position yourself to locate that fix without a moving map. One hint is that you’ll likely not receive that clearance if you aren’t approaching the fix on the radial, either coming to or from the navigation aid.
After mastering your hangar holding skills, step up to the PC-based flight simulator and start over at the beginning. Start with holding on a cardinal radial that you are already on, then progress to holding on a cardinal radial that you are not yet on, and then to holding on an arbitrary radial that you are not on. Even with all of your soup can preparations, this is going to be hard. You can see how without those preparations and a rock-solid set of scanning and tracking skills, it would be impossible.