The Airbus A380 is one of the most incredible planes flying today, even judged by size alone.
It usually seats around 500 passengers, but can hold as many as 853 — making it the largest passenger aircraft on the planet.
After watching the behemoth perform at this year’s Paris Air Show, we took a trip south to Toulouse, the French city where Airbus assembles many of its planes, to get an inside look at just what it takes to put together the A380.
After a trip by boat, barge, and truck, the various parts that make up the jumbo jet are assembled in an enormous building, in a process that takes just 10 to 11 days — fast enough that Airbus can produce 2.5 per month.
(The process of building and testing the entire plane, which sells for nearly $400 million, takes between 10 months and a year.)
Note: We’ve censored the tail of the jets in these photos, per Airbus’s request to protect their customers’ privacy.
Before work starts in Toulouse, the pieces need to get there. The various parts of Airbus planes are built at plants around Europe. Usually, they're flown to Toulouse in the endearingly ugly 'Beluga' cargo plane.
On barges, the parts travel via Bordeaux, on France's Atlantic coast, to the town of Langon, on the Garonne River.
To go the final 125 miles to Toulouse, the sections of the aircraft are loaded onto trucks and driven very slowly.
Some of the driving is done at night, so the convoy can take over the entire road without inconveniencing too many people. This happens every two weeks, and is something of an event for locals.
Some of the platforms are even mobile. This one is suspended from the ceiling and can be moved when necessary.
Because the A380 is so big, moving it is an inefficient pain. At one station, the three sections of the fuselage are guided into place by radio-guided vehicles to make sure they're exactly lined up.
Then Airbus workers join them, using about 19,000 rivets. The process for attaching the wings (pictured here) is similar.
At the same stage, the wings are attached, as are the horizontal and vertical stabilizers (the fins at the plane's rear).
Once the huge jet is put together, it is towed to the next station, where the electric and hydraulic systems are tested. There's more than 300 miles of wiring in each plane.
Near the end of the process, the engines are finally installed. Because they are so expensive, Airbus prefers not to join them to a plane until they're sure the aircraft is nearly ready for delivery.
Then there's a battery of final tests, done outside the assembly line. And when the A380 is finally delivered, it's something to celebrate.
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