February 2, 2015 / 3:31 AM / 3 years ago

Northrop Grumman buys Super Bowl air time

WASHINGTON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Northrop Grumman Corp, the third-largest U.S. weapons maker, played up its legacy of building advanced aircraft in its first ever Super Bowl advertisement, as it competes for a major new bomber contract.

The maker of the B-2 bomber is competing with a team made up of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, the No. 2 and No. 1 Pentagon suppliers, respectively, to build a new bomber for the U.S. Air Force.

Randy Belote, a spokesman for Northrop said the ad aired in just two markets: Washington and Dayton, Ohio, home to the Air Force's aviation contracting arm, which is gearing up to pick a winning bidder to build a new aircraft that is slated to cost half a billion dollars. He declined to say how much the ad cost.

The ad, part of the company's "national brand campaign," shows a series of the company's "flying wings," including the YB-35 prototype from the 1940s, then the B-2 Spirit bomber developed in the 1980s and finally the X-47B unmanned system being developed for the Navy.

It ends with another flying wing shape draped in a sheet.

"Building aircraft, the likes of which the world has never seen before," the narrator intones. "This is what we do."

Defense analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Virginia-based Teal Group, said the ad showed the importance of the bomber contract for Northrop, and capitalized on its strongest selling point: its flying wing heritage.

"To mix sports metaphors, they're making a full-court press for the last combat aircraft contract that matters for another decade. Both competitors need this contract to remain in the military airframe business," Aboulafia said.

Defense contractors often pay for advertisements in Washington publications and on billboards near the Pentagon when a key competition is nearing an end. But Super Bowl ads are rare, if not unprecedented. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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