Atomatoflames: Required Instruments for VFR Flights

Pilots · 5 min read · Jul 22, 2022

There are some industries flooded with complex buzzwords. The aviation industry is no exception. Starting from the first day into ground school till retirement, a pilot is dealing with a great deal of jargon. Atomatoflames is one specific acronym that might hinder a student pilot during his private pilot license training.

Here is a full review and explanation of the acronym covering more background information making this the last article you will ever read on the misty Atomatoflames. Stow the tray tables, it is time to buzz the engines!

What is hiding behind the acronym ATOMATOFLAMES?

The acronym Atomatoflames serves the ordinary function of an acronym – it is made out of the initial letters of many different words defining the required equipment for flight. Here is the breakdown:

A – Airspeed indicator

T – Tachometer (for each engine)

O – Oil pressure gauge (for each engine using a pressure system)

M – Manifold pressure gauge (for each altitude engine)

A – Altimeter

T – Temperature gauge (for each liquid-cooled engine)

O – Oil temperature gauge (for each air-cooled engine)

F – Fuel gauge

L – Landing gear position indicator (for retractable landing gear)

A – Anti-collision lights

M – Magnetic compass


S – Safety belts

An instrument panel of an aircraft.

For some, Atomatoflames sounds like a tongue twister, and they prefer using the acronyms Tomato Flames or A-Tomato-Flames, which is quite fine as long as the main purpose of the acronym is achieved.

It is quite clear that the above list is a bunch of aircraft instruments. But what makes putting them in an acronym so important? Let us find out.

Instrument and equipment requirements for VFR flights

As stipulated by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) under Title 14 of Federal Aviation Rules (FAR) 91.205, there are a set of rules for Visual Flight Rules (VFR) flights.

These rules are applicable for aircraft certificated under the standard category of U.S airworthiness certificates. The acronym Atomatoflames represents the 13 must-have instruments for a VFR flight taking place during the daytime.

As the name suggests, VFR flights are taking place under Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC) where the sky is clear enough to aid the pilots to navigate by visual cues.

Pilots flying under VFR employ the strategy ‘See-and-Avoid’ to identify aircraft in the vicinity and to maintain the minimum distance from them.

There are items included within the Tomato Flames to ensure proper visibility: anti-collision lights improve the visibility of an aircraft. Likewise, each piece of equipment is dedicated to a specific function and collectively a safe flight at the end.

Atomatoflames or Tomato Flames play a pivotal role in ensuring safety within the industry.

The required equipment list widens when the nature of flight becomes more advanced. Visual Flight Rules flights during the nighttime and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flights at any time of the day require a few additional pieces of equipment.

Exceptions for ATOMATOFLAMES

Depending on the aircraft type, there may be certain exceptions for required instruments for a VFR day flight. But instruments like airspeed indicators, tachometers, oil pressure gauges, oil temperature gauges, and magnetic compasses are usually found in every aircraft instrument panel.

Landing gear position indicator

Not all airplanes come with the retractable landing gear. As an example, Cessna 172 has a fixed undercarriage. Hence, the landing gear position indicator is out of the league for 172 pilots.

In most aircraft, the indicator is located adjacent to the landing gear lever in the front instrument panel. Normally, the landing gear is down and locked when the indicator is in green color.

A Cessna 172 with non-retractable landing gear preparing for landing.

Anti-collision lights

For aircraft certificated before March 11, 1996, anti-collision lights are not a must if flown during the daytime. However, when flown at night, anti-collision and navigation lights are a must for every aircraft. They are bright lights that can be spotted from a reasonable distance to avoid collisions.

Airplane landing with anti-collision lights turned on.

Safety belts

Small civil airplanes manufactured after July 18, 1978, should be equipped with a proper restraining system for front seats. For airplanes manufactured after December 12, 1986, all seats should be provided with a restraining system.

According to the FAA, a safety belt used with a shoulder harness has the capability of reducing major injuries by 88% and fatalities by 20%. If you are willing to upgrade your old bean with safety belts, here is some useful information.

Manifold pressure gauge

In simple terms, manifold pressure is measured at the intake manifold of the engine’s induction system. Only airplanes equipped with altitude engines are required to monitor the manifold pressure gauge.

Temperature gauge

Required equipment for engine monitoring may change depending on the engine type used in each aircraft. A separate temperature gauge for each liquid-cooled engine will be provided if the cooling medium is liquid or a combination of both liquid and air.

For an air-cooled engine, Cylinder Head Temperature (CHT) will be the main point of consideration for monitoring engine temperature.

Two pilots in a cockpit of an aircraft with a visible instrument panel and a temperature gauge.

VFR flights at night

Flying at night with visual references is challenging. Hence, many countries do not permit nighttime VFR flying. FAR 91.205 mandates the aircraft to be equipped with spare fuses, a landing light, anti-collision lights, position lights, and a source of electrical energy to power the electrical instruments.

These requirements are stipulated atop Tomato Flames: an aircraft doing a nighttime VFR flight should comply with Tomato Flames + Flaps.

For student pilots, the combination of Tomato Flames and Flaps is easier with each check ride they take.

F – Fuses (one spare set or three spare fuses of each kind)

L – Landing Light (if the aircraft is hired)

A – Anti-Collision Lights (aviation-red or aviation-white lights)

P – Position Lights

S – Source of Power

Unlike VFR day rules, anti-collision lights are required for a night flight regardless of the aircraft certification date. The lights should be of aviation white or aviation red. Under section FAR 23.2530 External and cockpit lighting, the requirements for anti-collision lights, a landing light, and position lights are clearly stipulated.

Red and green position lights in the aircraft wing tips indicate the aircraft moving direction to an observer.

An airplane being boarded at dusk with a visible red position light on the wing.

Instrument and equipment requirements for IFR flights

When the weather deteriorates below a threshold (VFR minima), pilots are no longer authorized to continue a VFR flight. A changeover should be done to IFR from VFR.

In order to do this, both the pilot and the aircraft should be certified for flying in IMC conditions. Pilots obtain their IFR rating via special training, while an aircraft is equipped with more advanced equipment to become instrument-rated.

G  Generator or alternator

R – Radio (comms/nav) appropriate to the flight

A – Attitude indicator

B – Ball (inclinometer)

C – Clock

A – Altimeter (pressure-sensitive)

R – Rate of turn indicator

D – Directional gyro

The acronym GRABCARD is used for required equipment under an IFR flight and we won’t go into detail about it in this article.


Atomatoflames is an acronym that no flight school student is going to avoid in their training, hence it is important to start learning the equipment listed under this term as soon as possible.

While some can find it tough to remember a long list of aviation acronyms, they have been created to ensure flight safety more easily and are vital for smooth operations and checklist completion.

In the end, it would be a pretty demanding and time-consuming task to go through the full names of aircraft equipment before every single flight.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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