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Tiny French village, meet giant Airbus A380 (photos)

Road Trip 2011: Before Airbus can make a new A380, it sends a convoy of the plane's wings, fuselage, and tail fins through the French countryside. In the ancient village of Levignac, the arrival of the convoy is a good excuse for a nighttime street party.

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Daniel Terdiman
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1 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

A380 and the boulangerie

LEVIGNAC, France--The job of ferrying the major components for an Airbus A380--the largest passenger airplane in the world--is so big that France built a 124-mile-long road dedicated to the task.

While the final assembly of the A380 is done in Toulouse, France, the plane's major components--the wings, three sections of fuselage, the tail fins, and other parts--are built in Germany, England, Spain, and France. And in order to make it to Toulouse, they must first be shipped individually to Bordeaux, France, where they begin their final voyage as separate parts. First they are put on a barge, and then the 124-mile overland trip begins.

The road is called the Itineraire a Grand Gabarit, and every two or three weeks, one of the A380 convoys makes its way slowly down the route, which was created mainly with the idea of avoiding towns and bridges. It cuts through a lot of countryside, and can be seen carving paths through fields of crops.

But the route could not avoid all towns. And in Levignac, a tiny village not far from Toulouse, each of the convoys passes through--usually late in the evening, and usually accompanied by hundreds of people who come out to watch the gigantic airplane components as they are very, very carefully slipped through the town's narrow streets. It is, in short, a big party.

As part of CNET Road Trip 2011, reporter Daniel Terdiman dropped in on Levignac for the most recent convoy, and got a chance to see one of the oddest marriages ever: big, modern airplane components and old, small French village.

And it makes for some funny pictures, too, such as here, where we see one of the three fuselage sections passing within feet of a sign for the local boulangerie, or bakery.

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2 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Attention convoy

The convoy began passing through Levignac at about 11:15 p.m. local time, and for about an hour before that, police made sure no cars were parked anywhere on the town's main street. Electronic sign boards were put up alerting anyone who didn't already know that the A380 convoy would soon be coming through.

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3 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Wing section across intersection

The first piece of plane to pass through Levignac while I was there was one of the A380's wings. Actually, Airbus routinely ships the wings for the next A380 with the convoy, so the wing seen here will not be used in the assembly of the same airplane that's getting the other major components. Still, the wing was part of the parade, and in this photograph, you can see that it's long enough to stretch more than across an intersection.

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4 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

The wing arrives

The first wing of the convoy arrives in Levignac.

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5 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Streets packed

The A380 convoy provides the people of Levignac the opportunity for a nighttime party. Before the components began passing through town, hundreds of people lined the streets, many with wine and other drinks in hand.

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6 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Wingtip--convoi exceptionnel

The truck carrying this wing has a sign on it that says it all: "Convoi exceptionnel."

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7 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Second wing section arrives

The second wing begins to pass through the center of Levignac.

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8 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Second wing tip

Here we see the tip of the second wing, just after it made its way through the center of the village.

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9 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Tail fins

In this picture, the gigantic tail fins of the A380--which together are about the same size as the wings of an Airbus A320--pass through the center of Levignac.

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10 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Tail fins going away

The gigantic A380 tail fans are seen having just passed through the center of Levignac.

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11 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Nose section

The nose section of the A380 makes its way through the center of Levignac as part of the convoy.

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12 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Nose section from the side

Here we see the nose section of the A380's fuselage from the side as the convoy passes through the center of Levignac.

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13 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Airbus A380

The end of the middle section of the fuselage is covered, and text on the cover makes sure no one forgets exactly what's under wraps.

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14 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Middle section of fuselage

This is the middle section of the A380's fuselage, seen passing through the center of Levignac.

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15 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Where the wings attach

In this picture, we see the center section of fuselage, right at the place where the plane's wings will be joined.

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16 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Rear fuselage section

In this picture, the rear section of fuselage passes through Levignac, and is seen just next to the town's boulangerie, or bakery.

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17 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Fuselage rear section

With the windows of some of the village's houses just next to it, the rear section of the fuselage brings up the end of the convoy.

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18 of 21 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Convoy moves on

After the convoy has finished passing through town, the party spills out into the middle of the street.

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19 of 21 Kathleen Craig

Nose section at Airbus

The morning after the convoy passes through Levignac, all the A380 components are seen together outside the A380 final assembly facility in Blagnac, France, just outside Toulouse.

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20 of 21 Kathleen Craig

Wing in Blagnac

In this photograph, we see the wings that were part of the convoy resting outside the A380 final assembly plant in Blagnac, France.

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21 of 21 Kathleen Craig

Fuselage in three sections

When they passed through Levignac, the three fuselage sections were on individual trucks, one after the other. But outside the assembly plant, they're placed side by side. Soon, they'll be brought inside the plant and Airbus will make another A380.

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