Beyond The Limits

Closed on May 23, 2011

Beyond the Limits examined how computers have transformed flight in all its aspects. Small objects on display ranged from analog calculating devices that preceded computers to instruments and imagery that showed where digital technology was headed. Large objects included two experimental aircraft—the HiMAT and Grumman X-29—and an Iridium communications satellite, each an important aerospace application of computer technology.

Interactive computers throughout the gallery invited you to design an airplane, try out a flight simulation program, or manipulate shapes through computer modeling techniques used by aircraft designers. The gallery also had exhibits on the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the "black boxes" used to determine the causes of aircraft accidents.


Grumman X-29 full-scale model

Grumman X-29
Grumman built this full-scale steel and fiberglas mockup of the X-29 for exhibition purposes. Two actual aircraft have been built, and both were test-flown at the NASA Dryden Research Center in California. The Smithsonian hopes to acquire one of the real aircraft and replace the mockup displayed in this exhibition when NASA completes its test program.
Gift from Grumman Aerospace Corporation

Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology (HiMAT) Research Plane

HiMAT (Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology) is a research plane piloted by computer-assisted remote control. As one of the first vehicles in which computational aerodynamics played a large design role, it served as a test for a number of innovative ideas. Despite the ability of supercomputers to pre-test any number of designs and performance factors, the successful test flight remains a central part of aerospace development.

Motorola Satellite for Iridium

Iridium Satellite
This satellite is the heart of a space-based communications system called Iridium. Conceived, designed, and built by Motorola, the Iridium system provides wireless, mobile communications through a network of 66 satellites in polar, low Earth orbits. Inaugurated in November 1998, Iridium allows callers using hand-held mobile phones and pages to communicate anywhere in the world—a first in the history of telephony.
Gift of Motorola, Inc.

CRAY-1 Supercomputer


The CRAY-1 on display at the National Mall building is Serial # 14. It was installed in 1978 at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, where it assisted scientists conducting research on global weather modeling and atmospheric physics. In 1986, it was shut down and donated to the Smithsonian Institution. The machine is displayed without its accompanying liquid Freon cooling system and external memory, and is no longer operational.
Gift from Cray Research, Inc.