When a man aboard an airplane ascending out of Huntsville looked out the window, he noticed something wrong.
A thin stream of mist seemed to be emerging from the plane's wing.
Thankfully, the man peering out the window that morning was an extraordinary human being — a Liberian immigrant and NASA engineer who happens to also be a life-long airplane enthusiast with an impressive knowledge of aeronautics.
The man, Rumaasha Maasha, used his scientific brain to analyze the situation:
"Normally, if it's a humid day, you'll see vortices, or circular patterns of rotating air, off the wing," he told NASA public affairs, who released his story this week. "About 1,000 feet off the ground, I started seeing something white and thought, 'maybe we're just hitting some humidity.' Well, then we banked to turn cross-wind and it was still doing it, and that's when I knew something was up. I looked closer and immediately realized that we were losing fluid."
In other words, the plane was leaking fuel.
As he pondered the stream seeping from the plane's wing, Maasha knew that the Venturri effect, which describes the way fluid flows through a constricted area of a pipe, would cause the fuel leak to speed up as the plane flew higher, thereby endangering himself as well as everyone on board.
Maasha alerted a flight attendant, whom he says was very attentive, and word spread to the crew.
Passengers were annoyed to learn that the pilot had turned back to the Hunstville airport — until they learned why. Back on the tarmac, Maasha was greeted with thanks and even got a tour of the cockpit.
Maasha's possibly-life-saving insight can be traced all the way back to his childhood: As a young boy he lived in Liberia near an airport and was fascinated by aircraft.
His journey from Liberian youngster to NASA engineer and astute airplane passenger is amazing. The odds of this confluence of events are small, making his actions all the more impressive..
Banner image credit: Pixabay, Fuzz