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March 2006 edition

South Africa deal marks new horizons for airship manufacturer

By Daniel Cook

Following on from our February edition, Airframer's Daniel Cook speaks to airship manufacturer Zeppelin New Technology about the role of the airship in today's aircraft manufacturing industry.

After a sixty year gap, Zeppelin airships are once again being built in Friedrichshafen, Germany. The original Zeppelins were used in the First World War for surveillance and bombing missions. The new Zeppelin project gets no money from the German government or from the EU, confirmed Zeppelin ceo Brandt, and it seems likely to stay that way.

Nevertheless, Zeppelin NT last year proved it was more than a blast from the past when it sold an airship to De Beers for mining exploration in South Africa.

Imaging devices on board the De Beers Zeppelin are able to measure the density of the ground beneath the ship, spotting areas where there was once volcanic activity, and looking for other criteria that might signal the presence of diamonds. Slow-moving, long-range airships are perfect for the work, said Brandt, and the fact that the Zeppelin NT07 does not vibrate in flight is essential to allow the imaging hardware to operate properly.

The second airship was sold to a firm in Japan, where it will be used for sightseeing and commercial advertising. The first NT07 is operated by Zeppelin in Germany, performing a similar role.

"Special missions are arising more and more," Brandt insisted. "You do different tasks, fly over football matches, take measurements, monitor energy consumption over towns. ....

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