June 12, 1978 12:00 PM

The notion of designing a woman’s brassiere on the principles of suspension, thrust and uplift is not new. Back in 1943, when Howard Hughes launched curvaceous Jane Russell on her movie career in The Outlaw, she wore a bra he supervised himself, based on aerodynamic engineering.

Yet Hughes’ invention pales in comparison with the Brantly bra. It is the brainchild of N. O. (for Newby Odell) Brantly, a spry 73-year-old millionaire and inventor of backhoes and helicopters. The Brantly bra, fashioned especially for large women, seems destined to stir up a tempest in the D-cups of the nation.

The purpose of the bra is to provide such women with support and comfort while they engage in active sports. Dr. Christine Haycock, a trauma surgeon and associate professor of surgery at the New Jersey College of Medicine, described the challenge in a report last year: “A trainer who has worked more than 10 years with track-and-field athletes noted that he has seen only one or two girls with large breasts in sports, and this tends to confirm that the discomfort of running without adequate breast support has kept many potential athletes from competing.” Running braless is hardly the answer, Haycock warns: It can result in unsightly, pendulous breasts by the time a woman reaches middle age.

Brantly’s invention deals with the problem. “The principle of suspension,” he explains, “is used to take the weight of a woman’s breasts off the shoulders, and the concept of thrust is used to get all of a woman’s bust into the cup to prevent the breast from being bruised or damaged.” The bra also has a shield in each cup for additional support.

Brantly learned the engineering principles involved while designing and building the Brantly 305 helicopter in 1946. Twenty years later he sold his helicopter patents to Lear Jet Corporation for $4.5 million, and the following year began making his big bras on a small scale in Frederick, Okla. Today the Brantly bra comes in 200 sizes and retails for $16 to $18.

Brantly, who was born in Newport, Texas, has been inventing things since he was a child and has had an interest in the lingerie industry since developing a machine to produce elastic in 1931. A decade later Brantly revolutionized the girdle industry with a more sophisticated loom that turned out two-way-stretch elastic. Soon 85 percent of the world’s girdles were being made by Brantly machines.

In 1955, after traveling all over the world, the inventor settled in Frederick (pop. 6,577), bringing to the town its three major industries—helicopters, bras and backhoes (a factory he set up in 1971). Brantly and his wife, Ginger, 51, share a sumptuous ranch house with an indoor pool. He occasionally plays golf (15 handicap) and buzzes down to Mexico on his motorcycle for long weekends. Soon he hopes to encounter amply-endowed women jogging comfortably along the road. “I am committed to getting this bra to as many women as possible,” he says, “knowing just how important a woman’s bust is to her overall sense of well-being.”

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