Feature Films
LTA Brazil
LTA China
LTA France
LTA Germany
LTA India
LTA Italy
LTA Japan
LTA Mexico
LTA Poland
LTA Russia
LTA S. Africa
LTA Thailand
Type Certificates
Usenet Groups
Web Sites

LTA South Africa

19 September 2005

DeBeers Searches for Diamonds
DeBeers Zeppelin

9 September 2005
Thanks to Sig Geist

Zeppelin NT in South Africa - An Update

Based on an article in Germany's Lake Constance print media, September 08 was to be the day when the Africa-Zeppelin departed for Jwaneng, a mining town in southern Botswana on its first of several months-long diamond exploring missions for De Beers Group of Companies.

The departure was preceded by the airship's arrival in Cape Town, South Africa after a 22-day sea voyage on August 31, 2005 (reported elsewhere as September 05). Since then, the airship was off-loaded successfully although unfavorable weather conditions in port took extra time and slowed the assembly of engines and empennage. Notwithstanding, the NT airship was airborne a few days later. It completed a 50-minute test flight and was then flown to a nearby military airfield. There, it was fitted with diamond-sensing technology, that once aboard the zeppelin was reported to be five-times more efficient than existing equipment.

The evening before the zeppelin's reported departure on 9/08, De Beers held a big reception for its VIP's where its press officer Tom Tweedy called the richly emblazoned airship the "workhorse" for its diamond-seeking mission in Botswana. Most prominent among the no fewer than six signs and logos painted on the envelope is one whose undulating ribbon-like lettering spells out "Diamonds for development in Africa" in multi-color along both sides of the airship. Of course, the De Beers' "A diamond is forever" moniker is not to be missed.

According to the "MBendi Information for Africa" website, Botswana is the leading producer of gem quality diamonds in the world, producing some 30.4 Mct in 2003 compared to 28.4 Mct in 2002. The diamond industry accounted for 83% of export earnings within the country.

Diamond production in Botswana is dominated by Debswana, a joint venture company owned by De Beers Investments (50%) and the Government of Botswana (50%). Debswana has 3 operational mines, Jwaneng is the youngest among them.

Based once more on the above article and its reliance on a state of Hessia based media service, the for now two year agreement with De Beers was reported to be highly profitable for the airship's builder / parent Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH (ZLT). Although De Beers reportedly declined to enter into a profit sharing arrangement, ZLT's profit was mentioned to amount to 5.5 million Euro (6.9 million USD).

20 December 2001

The Hamiltom Airship Company has ceased to exist -- for now.

31 Oct 2000

I haven't heard anything recently about The Hamiltom Airship Company's activities. I assume they are attempting to attract venture capital for their enterprise. ITM, their website is very much worthwhile a visit.

25 Feb 1997

From the Cape Times (Johannesburg)
SA company to build world's largest airship

Construction of the world's largest airship, twice as large as a B747 and codenamed " Nelson " is to start next month. The maiden flight of the craft, a successor to those that crossed the Atlantic from Europe to America in the 1930's, is scheduled to take 30 passengers from Johannesburg to New York at a speed of 160kph ( kilometers not knots )."It will be cheap to run, economical for passengers in costs and safe, "said designer Jonathon Hamilton, who is managing director of the The Hamilton Airship Company (THAC) which is building the airship with the backing of Denel Aviation. "Nelson" has been designed as a rigid airship. Its construction comprises a centre spine, surrounded by gasbags containing nonflammable helium, and with a three storey gondola for carrying personneland equipment . The spine is designed to be flexible in extreme weather.

The airship will be powered by three 500 hp motors and will cost R85 million to build . Asked if the airship would be safe inview of the accident which destroyed the Hindenburg 60 years ago, Hamilton said : "this airship can afford to lose power in all three engines and it will not fall out of the sky." The Hindenburg caught fire while docking in New York in 1937, but the THAC airship will be able to take off and land like a helicopter, something the Hindenburg and other early airships were unable to do. Denel said patents taken out by THAC were "revolutionary, practical , and in Denel Aviation engineering division's opinion , in a " world beating class." " It will be a real boon to tourism - on the Johannesburg to Sun City route, for instance, it could take up to 90 passengers, flying at an altitude of 2000 metres, " said Hamilton. Flights are envisaged to Durban, the Kruger National Park and other tourist attractions, and it would also be suitable for international relief measures. A military application is also being studied. It is claimed the project will generate foreign exchange and create many jobs. THAC and Denel are planning to enter the airship in an Atlantic challenge against 15 other manufacturers who are competing to be the first to cross the ocean by airship since the Hindenburg. Among them is the Hindenburg's manufacturer, Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, who are building a 75m ship, due to fly for the first time in April.

Above verbatim from the newspaper - some journalistic hyperbole and misinterpretation evident. This is all quite funny as Mike Walden first alerted me to rumours about a South African ship a few weeks back - my first thoughts were that it had to be Denel but e-mail enquiries were met with a stunning silence - until today - the same date as the above press release! Anyway I have a telephone number for the project manager and intend giving him a call tomorrow.

Some web addresses :

Cape Times newspaper group:


27 Feb 1997

S.Africa to build world's biggest modern airship

JOHANNESBURG (Reuter) - A South African firm said Monday it would build the world's biggest modern-day airship, twice the length of a Boeing 747, and take tourists on a 10-day cruise to New York.

The airship, which it hopes to name ``Nelson'' if President Nelson Mandela approves, will travel at a leisurely 56 mph on the 8,450 mile voyage from Johannesburg to New York via Cape Verde, The Hamilton Airship Company said. It hopes Nelson, 132 yards long, will next year cross the Atlantic.

The state-owned Denel Aviation Corp., which is contracted to build the airship from next month, said the design was revolutionary and would overcome dangerous flaws that put an end to commercial airship travel before World War II. The three-engined ship will be filled with non-flammable helium, be structured around a central, protected spine of flexible carbon fiber, and be able to land like a helicopter. The earliest airships used hydrogen, which erupted in a ball of flames if ignited, and had to be moored to pylons when stationary. Many suffered structural failure because of strains on their external aluminium frames.

The South African firm's managing director, Johnathan Hamilton, said his ship would cost $19.2 million to build, around a quarter of it already pledged by a local bank and another quarter by private investors. By comparison, a Boeing 737-400 which can carry 120 people, the same as the airship, costs over $143 million, he said. The likeliest use once the airship comes back home from New York is tourism around South Africa, but it could also carry fruit and other cargo or serve as a flying hospital or for firefighting and border patrols.

27 Feb 1997

Denel clarifies involvement in airship project by Stuart Kelly

Denel Aviation, quoted by The Star and other newspapers yesterday as being the "backer" behind a new R85-million airship by The Hamilton Airship Company (THAC), said last night its involvement with the project was limited to developmental assistance.

Clarifying a statement by Denel spokesman Paul Holtzhausen in which he said no agreement existed between Denel and THAC for the final development or production of the airship, Denel Aviation's CEO Pottie Potgieter admitted last night it was concerned that readers of yesterday's report may misconstrue the nature of Denel's involvement.

"We are not financial backers of the project," he said. "THAC contracted our expertise to refine the design for the airship only."

Potgieter added that if THAC could come up with the finances to complete the project, Denel would also wish to assist with the next stages of the airship's development, including its construction. Holtzhausen said THAC approached Denel last year for help in the refinement of the design of a THAC prototype airship. Denel prepared a proposal for design refinement and delivered it to THAC.

THAC director Annemarie Roux said the project to construct the world's largest airship which it is envisaged will transport 30 passengers from Johannesburg to New York within 10 days would take place in three stages.

"Denel have been involved with the first phase, which included refining our initial design. They have expressed strong support for the project and said they are interested in being involved in the next two phases, which will include further refining and the initial construction of about 10 airships," she said.

THAC plans to enter the airship in an "Atlantic challenge" against 15 other manufacturers, competing to be the first to cross the ocean by airship since the Hindenburg caught fire in New York in 1937.

March 4, 1997


(Johannesburg) A South African plans to take on the world's best by building a super airship - twice the size of a B747 - which will glide gracefully around the world. It's called Nelson, will cost R85 million and is a top contender in an international race to come up with a new generation airship to make the first Atlantic crossing It's creator, Jonathon Hamilton, managing director of the Jhbg based THAC (The Hamilton Airship Company) believes South Africa has an opportunity to become a world leader in the resurgence of airship travel.

The Nelson should be thru its air trials in a year from now and will embark on it's 10 day maiden voyage from Johannesburg to New York.

Fresh-faced and enthusiastic, Mr Hamilton, 30, spent more than a year fine-tuning his revolutionary design, which takes advantage of modern materials and technology which earlier airships lacked. But why should anybody want to bob about in the air for days when they could go by plane in just hours ?

"I think people are sick of being transported. People want to travel instead of being bolted into bus seats in a steel tube, particularly when they are going on holiday.

"Imagine drifting over the Eiffel Tower, moving over the Alps and eventually the Nile and Victoria Falls and arriving in Johannesburg. "It might take three days, but you can at least stop for a picnic at the pyramids," he says.

But his dream might not be shared by those who recall the horror of the Hindenburg bursting into flame and crashing to the ground in New York 60 years ago when airships were all the rage. The difference, he says, is that the Nelson relies on non-inflammable helium gas for buoyancy and even if the three engines were to fail, it would still remain airborne.

The weak structure and the obvious dangers of flying about in a hydrogen-loaded craft were in part responsible for the demise of airships.

But Mr Hamilton says American fears of enemy craft capable of carrying tons of explosives undetected, and blowing up entire cities, led to a ban on the sale of helium in the run-up to World War 2.

But that will all change, according to Mr Hamilton, who says a US government investigation into airships concluded that the world would need 1 000 airships in the next 10 years in order to overcome existing and future transportation problems. Roads and airports are not able to keep pace with the demand for moving freight and people around the globe.

"Airships present a real alternative. They are cheaper and quicker to build and fly". He says his Nelson is a strong contender in an informal race involving 15 contenders from 10 countries, including the US, Canada, Britain, Germany and Russia, all keen to come up with a craft to make the first modern-day Atlantic crossing.

The Nelson is a rigid airship with a central spine, a tube made of carbon fibre, encapsulated by a series of circular helium-filled envelopes.

Aviation experts regard its design as revolutionary, being both rigid enough to fly at 160km/h and flexible enough to withstand extreme weather conditions. Instead of having a gondola suspended beneath the floating superstructure, the accommodation is sandwiched between two helium envelopes forward of midships.

Comfort and style will be a strong feature of the three-deck accommodation, with well-appointed cabins with their own ablutions, and room service. A dining room, bar and lounge, with breathtaking views of the world below, will make airship travel a truly relaxing affair.

It can land and take off almost like a helicopter and does not need landing pylons as earlier craft did. A harpoon is fired into the ground to secure it on landing and its mass of 29,5 tons prevents it from being blown about by bad weather, Mr Hamilton said.

He said there was no shortage of takers, and during a radio interview last week several callers wanted to book their seats. Once Thac has come up with the financial guarantees for sub-contractors Denel Aviation, the manufacturing of components will begin.

"Next year we plan to build five airships, and eight the following year. We are confident we can get production time down to six to seven weeks a ship".

Mr Hamilton believes airships will revolutionise eco-tourism, particularly in this country with its vast parks.

On 25 Feb 1997:

85,000,000.00 South African Rand = 19,235,500.00 US Dollar

The currency converter I used is at so you can convert to your favorite currency.

This site was created, written and is maintained by John Dziadecki 1995-2014. Images and quotes that are not the author's remain in the copyright of the originator. The information contained in this website is for educational purposes only. Additions and corrections are welcomed! Please send comments, suggestions and possible links to Last update: 09 May 2014