In rural France about an hour outside the southwestern city of Toulouse is a large parking lot set between fields. Here is where a truck convoy carrying six pieces of a giant A380 airliner rest during the day as they drive from a port near Bordeaux to Airbus' Toulouse factory for final assembly.
To avoid fouling daytime traffic, the trucks hauling the wings, tailplane and three fuselage sections travel over the course of two nights on the 150-mile journey. And because the parts are so enormous (the tailplane is 45 feet high when resting on a trailer), the convoy must avoid overpasses and stick to country roads instead.
The twice-monthly convoys are a bizarre and strangely wonderful sight that the public is free to witness. But if you can't make it to France, keep clicking to ride along for a night with the Itinéraire à Grand Gabarit (in English, "oversize convoy route").
The parking area, which Airbus specially built for the convoys, is surrounded by tall fences and guarded during the day. When we arrived at 10 p.m., the convoy was just coming to life as drivers warmed up their trucks and the support crews began to assemble. We were free to walk around and gawk, which we did.
Instead of being shipped in two sections, the tailplane (or the horizontal stabilizer) arrives in Toulouse in one piece, ready to be attached to the fuselage. Made mostly of composite material, it's a pale yellow color.
As the convoy begins to move, we jump into a van and race ahead through the town of Ordan-Larroque to a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. Just before the convoy arrives, motorcycle riders race in to pause traffic.