I was in a car in NYC on 2/18 going from Queens to Manhattan. While going over a bridge I noticed some (what looked to me like) very tight circular contrails in the sky.

The plane was still there but very high up and/or far away and I couldn't make it out.

The photos here are from my phone, through the window of a moving car on a bridge, so not the best, but it's all I could get.

I never noticed anything like this before and I was curious what this might be.

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    $\begingroup$ Military exercise? $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Mar 3, 2018 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ Probably skywriting. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Mar 5, 2018 at 0:24
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    $\begingroup$ @757toga it's hard to tell from the photos (especially the thumbnails) but the line coming out the arc on the right didn't seem to be at all related, and it otherwise did not look like skywriting (I have seen that before). $\endgroup$
    – briantist
    Mar 5, 2018 at 1:35

1 Answer 1


those look like Holding pattern. Air Traffic controllers manage the flow of air traffic to and from airports. Sometimes it is necessary to hold a few of them before they can start an approach for landing.

image from thepracticalmystic

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks! Are they usually at such a high altitude for a holding pattern though? The plane was a tiny spec, and there's not a lot of distance (as far a plane is concerned) to any of the 3 airports in the metro area. When it comes time to land, would they basically descend in a spiral? $\endgroup$
    – briantist
    May 2, 2018 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @briantist They may look close, but they are separated from each other using different altitudes. A holding can be at any altitude, but it is usually better to hold at higher altitudes because the engines use less fuel, and it would be safer in case of an emergency for example. it is difficult to say what the purpose for those holdings were, but if it is necessary, the can descend in a holding pattern as well. $\endgroup$
    – user30767
    May 2, 2018 at 22:09

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