What Was Northrop Grumman’s Super Bowl Ad Selling?

Probably a bomber (and a power fantasy)

The Super Bowl is known almost as much for the advertising spectacle it creates as it is for the game itself. Amidst the usual ads for products like cars, beer, and life insurance for children, there was one spot featuring a mysterious flying wing, hidden under a giant sheet. Under that sheet is likely Northrop Grumman’s proposed Long Range Strike Bomber, a futuristic war machine designed with exactly one customer in mind: the United States Air Force.

Northrop Grumman has a long history of flying wings. In May 1946, Popular Science wrote about John K. Northrop’s XB-35 100-Ton Flying Wing, a massive bomber designed to fly faster than any fighters at the time and drop more bombs than the existing B-29 Superfortress. Northrop Grumman’s ad starts with the XB-35 sitting in a hangar.

100 Ton Flying  Wing

Flying wings proved to be a bit ahead of their time in 1946. Forty-three years later Popular Science wrote “B-2: What Stealth’s First Flight Reveals,” about the brand-new B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The Spirit is the most advanced bomber flown by the USAF today, but there aren’t that many of them. With the collapse of the USSR, the immediate need for a large fleet of expensive nuclear bombers disappeared, and so did the funding.

Stealth's First Flight

Next in the ad is the X-47B, an unmanned experimental gray flying wedge. In 2013, the X-47B successfully took off from–and landed on–an aircraft carrier autonomously, a feat that’s even at the best of times hard for human pilots. Until the X-47B, it was unprecedented in drones. The X-47B was built for the U.S. Navy as an “unmanned combat aerial system,” and while the Dorito-shaped plane won’t see active military service, it’s success will likely influence future designs.

X-47B Over Edwards Air Force Base

Finally, the ad features a pilot stepping up to a blanketed aircraft. He’s in a flight suit, his hair is cropped short, and his aviators just scream out for writers to make a “Top Gun” reference. Likely lurking underneath that blanket is the Long Range Stealth Bomber, a futuristic stealth bomber operating at great distances and with deadly effect. It is designed to accurately deliver weapons, including nuclear weapons, even in the face of hostile aircraft. So the pilot is key. As a senior defense official told Popular Science late last year, even if future versions of the Long Range Strike Bomber can fly unmanned, they want to make sure it’s always possible to have a human pilot physically in the plane’s cockpit.

It’s all but certain that it’s the Long Range Strike bomber under that cloth. Ads in the Washington, DC area already suggest the coming bomber; at an Air Force conference in September in nearby Grand Harbor, Northrop Grumman hung a giant banner ad that said “Long Range Strike” and featured a picture of the B-2, an iconic bomber. A television commercial airing in the D.C. market shows off a range of Northrop Grumman aircraft, and then ends with a large, wedge-shaped shadow suggesting the bomber to come. Further dispelling doubts, Northrop Grumman’s official Twitter account retweeted an editor for AdWeek saying “One of the ads is for a Northrop Grumman STEALTH BOMBER.”

The end of Northrop Grumman’s Super Bowl ad directs viewers to a special stealth landing page, which also includes the Global Hawk drone. Though, the Global Hawk is an odd fit for the timeline and the ad, as it’s neither stealth nor a flying wing.

Watch the ad below: