Present Position Hold


When I was working on my instrument rating back in 2007, my instructor and I did a lot of unpublished holds.  In ground school, I heard a lot about holding for weather or holding due to a traffic delay.  At my first job, my chief flight instructor was also a Continental (now United) captain and he told me a lot about having to hold for weather going into different places.

I heard all this, but I figured it would never happen to me when I’m flying GA airplanes.

Boy was I wrong!

I was flying a Piper Malibu into Phoenix with two passengers for Super Bowl weekend and the weather was awful.  No thunderstorms, but moderate precipitation and low ceilings.  We were coming into Deer Valley (KDVT) on the north side of Phoenix and about an hour out, ATC advised me that arrivals into DVT were having to hold and to expect a delay.  The controller said the delay would be about 30 minutes, so by doing a quick calculation, I determined the delay would probably be all cleared up by the time I got in the area.  At the time, I didn’t know if the delay was due to weather or traffic congestion.

Twenty minutes later, the controller advised me that there was still a delay.  I queried what it was for and he informed me it was due to weather.  He asked me if I wanted to hold or divert.  I listened to the ATIS and heard the ceilings were variable from just below the minimums to just above.  I told him I would hold as the TAF I saw predicted the ceilings to go up.

“Malibu, hold present position, hold east, expect further clearance 2140 Zulu.”  Gulp.

At this point, my autopilot had gone out, it was turbulent and I was definitely in the soup.  This was going to be fun.

After recovering my wits, I read back the clearance, then set about setting up this hold without getting too far from my present position.  The Malibu I was flying had a Garmin 530 which I was using as my primary means of navigation.  I was on V190, but I didn’t have all the fixes in my flight plan.  What to do?  And what to do fast?

The 530 has a rarely used function called a User Waypoint.  It comes in handy in situations like these.  On the moving map, you can turn the cursor on, move the cursor to any point on the map, and, by pressing enter, create a User Waypoint.  This is what I did on V190.  After I created it, I had to go to my flight plan, find the right spot, and input the User Waypoint just like I would any fix.  Just a note here, when you create a User Waypoint, make sure you remember what you named it so you can find it again.

After I input the User Waypoint in the flight plan, I had to go back and activate the leg that the User Waypoint was the end point on.  Then, to make sure the flight plan didn’t go to the next waypoint once I crossed my User Waypoint, I had to press the OBS button on the 530 in order to put the GPS in suspend mode.

Keep in mind, my autopilot wasn’t working, so this involved a lot of multi-tasking!

That’s how to do a present position hold using the Garmin 530.  Got all that?  Here’s a concise review:

  • Create a User Waypoint
    • Turn the cursor on by pressing the FMS knob
    • Move the cursor to the point where you want your User Waypoint
    • Press enter and name the User Waypoint
  • Press the Flight Plan button
  • Input the User Waypoint into your flight plan at the proper point
  • Activate the leg that the User Waypoint is the end point on
  • Finally, press the OBS button to put the GPS in suspend mode
  • After you’re cleared onward, just press the OBS button again to take the GPS out of suspend mode

Reading Weather Prog Charts

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There are a multitude of weather products out there today to assist pilots in preparing for a flight. is the best source for getting all the information a pilot needs for planning a flight. is the National Weather Service’s source for all aviation related weather products.  When I teach about weather and weather briefings, I recommend to my students to utilize in the planning stages, but still call the Flight Service Station to get a full fledged weather briefing before takeoff.

When preflight weather planning, one of the best ways to get a picture of what is happening over a broad area is utilizing the Low Level Significant Weather Prog charts.  The Prog chart gives a forecasted 12 and 24 hour picture of what type of weather to expect over the US.  The Prog chart gives the expected flight rules, areas of turbulence, and where the freezing level is located.  If you’re looking at the 4 panel view, the Surface Prog chart shows fronts, pressure areas, and areas of expected precipitation.  That covers just about everything, doesn’t it?

I believe the Prog charts are underutilized in planning.  Foreflight and Garmin Pilot have given easy access to radar pictures, satellite pictures, METARs, TAFs, and several other sources of weather information.  But, a lot of the easy access data you can get from those apps is current data (with the exception of the TAF) while a lot of the forecast data takes some hunting around.  So, products like Prog charts aren’t often utilized.

The other problem arises when pilots know about Prog charts, but don’t know how to read them, then don’t know how to find the legend to decipher the chart, the chart is often set aside and quickly forgotten about just because of a lack of knowledge.  Have no fear, though, as now we will use an example 4 panel Prog chart to decipher the lines and colorations.

Low Level Sig WX Prog

Just looking at the Low Level Significant Weather Prog Chart above, it can be a little confusing.  That’s why they make a legend!

Low Level Legend

Coupling the legend with the chart above, we can determine some things.  First, California, parts of the Pacific Northwest, a small part of southern Arizona, and a good portion of the Midwest and East coast are going to have marginal VFR conditions in the next 12 hours.  Wisconsin, Illinois, a good portion of the Northeast, and a small portion of the Pacific Northwest will suffer IFR from IFR conditions.  There are going to be a good amount of low level turbulence in the northern and eastern parts of the country.  Finally, the freezing level starts at the surface running in a jagged line across the midwest states and curling up into the Northeast.

That’s a good bit of information, isn’t it?  If a pilot is planning a VFR flight into the Northeast tonight, it would probably be best to wait for another day, according to this chart.

Now, to see what is causing the conditions above, we need to look at the Surface Prog Chart.

Surface Prog

The green circular areas above show that some form of precipitation is in that area.  The circular dots with the triangle located in Mexico and Baja California are depicting moderate rain showers.  If the triangle was gone, it would just be moderate rain.  In the northeast, all those symbols are showing moderate to heavy snow showers.  Across the plains, we see a lot of high pressure, meaning visibility and nice flying weather.

These charts are invaluable when it comes to flight planning, especially over long distances when the weather could be changing a lot over the period of your flight.  Put them to use the next time you are planning a trip and you’ll learn you have a much better picture of what the weather is doing.

A Takeoff Briefing


Takeoff briefings are one of those things that most pilots are taught when they first learn how to fly, but once they get into flying themselves around, quickly fall by the wayside.  There is a reason student pilots are instructed to perform a takeoff briefing before departure.  It gets them thinking about what the plan is after they get off the ground and what to do if something goes wrong.

Takeoff Briefing

Takeoff briefings are a good habit to get into.  Airline crews do a takeoff briefing before every departure, even though they have performed a takeoff in that particular airplane thousands of times.  It enhances safety and provides repetition, keeping that knowledge at the forefront of the crew’s minds.

In general aviation, a takeoff briefing should cover what the takeoff procedure is, what the abort plan is, and what the plan after takeoff is.

Takeoff Procedure

Most pilots fly the same airplane all the time, so the familiarity with what goes into a takeoff is there.  But, habits should be formed to brief the takeoff procedure as part of the takeoff briefing.  It doesn’t need to be extensive, just covering the basics of how the airplane is getting off the ground.  Something like this:

  • Throttle setting (if turbo charged, will full throttle cause an overboost?)
  • Rotate speed
  • Expected takeoff roll

That’s it.  Nothing fancy for the takeoff procedure.

Abort Plan

What is the plan if something goes wrong?  It doesn’t have to be an engine failure, maybe the engine coughs when full power is added or maybe the engine doesn’t produce peak RPM.  Maybe the takeoff roll is longer than anticipated and something doesn’t seem right.  Maybe on climb out a door pops open.  Maybe the engine fails at 1,000 feet.  It’s good to keep the plan in the foreground for what to do if an abnormal or emergency situation takes place.

  • Brief the aborted takeoff procedure
    • Pick an abort point on the runway based on the expected ground roll
    • What is the procedure if the airplane isn’t off the ground by then?
    • What is the procedure if the engine quits on the runway?
  • Brief the engine failure procedure at low altitude
    • If the engine fails over the runway, will you try to land on the runway?
    • What altitude would you elect to turn back as opposed to landing straight ahead?
    • If the plane is too low to turn back, would you land straight ahead or aim left or right?
    • What airspeed will you aim to hold if the engine fails?
  • In a Cirrus, what is your minimum parachute deployment altitude?

After Takeoff Plan

After the airplane is off the ground, what’s the plan then?  Are you staying in the pattern or departing the area?  Do you need to adjust your power at a certain altitude?  What altitude are you climbing to?  What heading are you going to fly?  Is your flight plan in your GPS?  This is an excellent time to set up altitude and heading bugs if your airplane is so equipped.

Get in the habit of doing a takeoff briefing before you call the tower or announce your departure.  It get’s your mind focused on the task at hand and then what is going to be happening next.

AOPA Air Safety Foundation Survival Seminar


The AOPA’s Air Safety Foundation will be returning to Texas this coming week with their After the Crash:  Surviving An Aircraft Accident seminar.  Though aircraft accidents are rare to most pilots, they still happen.  It is best to be prepared with the proper knowledge and supplies in case you are stranded in a remote area while awaiting help to arrive.

The seminar will cover the following items:

  • How and what to pack in a survival kit
  • Ways to help search parties find you
  • What to do first immediately after the off airport landing
  • How to survive will awaiting rescue

The seminar will be put on in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin on three consecutive nights, the 20th-22nd, so everyone will get a chance to attend.  The location and times are below.

No signup is necessary, just show up and be ready to learn.  The seminar does count for WINGs credit and there will be a sign in sheet at each event.

The AOPA Air Safety Foundation puts on numerous seminars throughout the country during the year covering a wide variety of topics relevant to general aviation pilots.  The content is always interesting and the presenter always knowledgeable and entertaining.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 20th

Wyndham Hotel, Houston West
14703 Park Row Blvd.
Houston, TX 77079

Wednesday, January 21st

Doubletree Hotel, San Antonio Airport
37 NE Loop 410
San Antonio, TX 78216

Thursday, January 22nd

Omni Hotel, Southpark
4140 Governor’s Row
Austin, TX 78744

For more information on the event and the locations, please click here.

Free iPad Webinar


Are you thinking of buying an iPad and going to a paperless cockpit?  Have you just recently purchased an iPad and are unsure of how to use Foreflight to it’s fullest extent?  Check out this free webinar on Monday, January 19th.  Gary Reeves, a Master CFI from California, will be hosting the 90 minute seminar, which begins at 1800 Z.  He will be able to point you in the right direction for what type of iPad to purchase, how to set up your Foreflight account, and the basics of using the App.

You can finally get rid of those paper charts, saving clutter in the cockpit.  Just make sure you bring along a charger for those extended flight in case your battery dips low!

To sign up for this webinar, click here.  There is no cost associated with the webinar.