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Photos: Return of the zeppelin

From hundreds of feet in the air, a zeppelin can scan a landscape for hints of diamond deposits.
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1 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

De Beers zeppelin

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 Bell Geospace 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.

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2 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Zeppelin in flight

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.

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3 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Zeppelin framework

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.

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4 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Envelope

The envelope of the NT airship, made of many layers of laminated fabric, holds helium gas.

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5 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Propellers

Three propellers with a maximum swivel of 120 degrees aid the Zeppelin NT to take off and land vertically, like a helicopter.

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6 of 6 Bill Detwiler/ZDNet

Mast and nose cone

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.

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