Gem-mining company De Beers is leasing a Zeppelin-NT airship to hunt for potential diamond deposits in Botswana and South Africa from hundreds of feet up in the air. The rigid dirigible carries high-tech sensors from that conduct geological scans to pinpoint the lower-density rock formations where diamonds may be found. Unlike airplanes, the Zeppelin has a low level of noise and can cruise at low speeds, suitable for the advanced gravity geometry technology.
The De Beers Zeppelin-NT in flight near Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. The airship typically takes off at sunset and flies for six or seven hours a night, when there is less turbulence. It can cover as many as 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) in a day, compared with 5 kilometers (just over 3 miles) for a ground crew, according to a survey team member.
The De Beers aircraft is Zeppelin NT-07. The New Technology Zeppelin, which had its maiden flight in 1997, has framework that weighs about a ton. The cabin, engines and other main airship components all connect to the rigid structure, which has triangular carbon fiber frames and three aluminum longerons.
The envelope of the NT airship, made of many layers of laminated fabric, holds helium gas.
Three propellers with a maximum swivel of 120 degrees aid the Zeppelin NT to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter.
A mast truck is used to maneuver the airship. For takeoff, the nose cone is detached from the mast. On landing, the airship gets into the desired position with the help of propeller thrust.