Legendary Zeppelin flies again in Africa

8th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

8 September 2005, YSTERPLAAT, SOUTH AFRICA - The Zeppelin LZNO7 - the latest incarnation of the Second World War-era airship - has been turning heads at Ysterplaat air force base, close to Cape Town in South Africa, since it arrived.

8 September 2005

YSTERPLAAT, SOUTH AFRICA - The Zeppelin LZNO7 - the latest incarnation of the Second World War-era airship - has been turning heads at Ysterplaat air force base, close to Cape Town in South Africa, since it arrived.

"What do you use something like that for?" one airman wonders as he peers at the enormous cigar-shaped vessel, which at 75 metres in length is only slightly shorter than the Airbus A380 "superjumbo", the world's largest passenger plane.

The experimental airship, which seats just nine people and is one of only three in the world, landed in Africa earlier this week where pilots and technicians at the Ysterplaat base have been gently putting it through its paces.

As the aircraft was released from its moorings Wednesday and drifted up into the sunny skies for one of seven 30-minute flights over Cape Town, passengers aboard the gondola waved eagerly to those left on the ground.

Those aboard were perhaps reflecting on the fact that they have joined the ranks of the privileged, being some of the relatively few people lucky enough to fly on a real Zeppelin.

Banished to the back of their minds will no doubt have been the iconic image of the infamous hydrogen-fuelled Hindenburg craft which burst into flames over the United States in 1937 killing dozens of passengers.

The craft currently in Ysterplaat has been leased for two years by leading diamond producer de Beers, who intend to use it as a platform for geological surveys over vast swathes of land across South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

The company chartered the airship from manufacturer Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik (ZL), based in the German port city of Friedrichshafen, home to the Zeppelin and its 19th century founder Count Zeppelin.

Over the next two weeks, the airship - built in 1997, certified in 2001 and christened "Friedrichshafen" - is to be fitted with the most modern geoscience equipment, designed to find diamond-bearing kimberlite rock.

Motivated by a need for a smoother platform to carry out the surveys, de Beers Head of Exploration Dave Hatch approached the German firm with a view to using one of its 6,300-kilogramme carbon fibre and aluminium airships.

"We realised when we were getting data, it was not going to be as exact because of the vibrations caused by a Cessna (airplane) or a helicopter," Hatch told Deutsche Presse-Agentur DPA, adding that the slow, stable and almost silent Zeppelin was a "logical conclusion".

Airships such as the Zeppelin date back to the early 1900s, but Hindenburg crash saw aircraft take preference over airships.

Modern-era Zeppelins, one of which was sold to Japan in 2004, are however not fuelled with highly-flammable hydrogen but with inert helium gas.

For ZL, involvment with de Beers is a new departure. "The Japanese use the one they have for advertising and marketing purposes," said ZL spokesperson Jurgen Fecher. "The other Zeppelin is used for tours in Germany and for special surveys and scientific missions."

Zeppelins, he noted, are not to be confused with "blimps" - large inflatable vessels without a rigid interior.

The company will provide its own pilots at first, but a South African pilot is undergoing training in Germany in Zeppelin flight, Fecher said, explaining that the airships were "as complicated" to fly as any other craft.

German pilot Joerg Straub, a 39-year-old former military helicopter pilot, was born in Friedrichshafen and said the Zeppelin was in his blood.

Straub is to spend six weeks at a stretch in Africa during intial trials with the LZNO7.

His initial experiences in the country have been very smooth, Straub said. "Mostly," he mused, "because we look very peaceful with this big thing."


Subject: German news

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