Retired Navy Vice Adm. Thomas G. W. Settle, 84, pioneer in balloon flights and winner of the Navy Cross as commander of the heavy cruiser USS Portland in World War II, died of cancer Monday at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center.
His last assignment before retirement in 1957 was that of chief of the military assistance advisory group to Norway. He then returned to the Washington area and twice was recalled to active duty to serve on groups studying personnel matters for the Defense and Navy departments.
Adm. Settle had served here earlier in 1946-47 as airship adviser to the deputy chief of naval operations for air, and during 1949-51 as chief of the lighter-than-air section of the Bureau of Naval Aeronautics.
He was born in Washington to an Army family. After graduating from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1918, he served at sea in a war zone during World War I.
From 1924 to 1934, Adm. Settle devoted himself to airships. He was communications officer on the Navy rigid airship, Shenandoah, and executive officer of the German-built dirigible, Los Angeles.
He made over 100 balloon flights. In 1929, he and another officer set a world endurance and distance record of 43 hours and 952 miles in a race out of Pittsburgh. They took the James Gordon Bennett award in a balloon race out of Switzerland three years later.
In 1933, taking off from Akron, Ohio, Adm. Settle and an aide ascended 61,237 feet into the stratosphere, setting a world altitude record.
After 1934, as a line officer, he held various posts, including that of commander of a gunboat in the Yangtze River patrol in China. In the early part of World War II he commanded the blimp squadrons of the Pacific Fleet.
He received a Navy Cross for heroism as commander of the Portland "in action against major units of the enemy Japanese fleet during the battle of Surigao Strait." His other decorations included the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.
Adm. Settle won the Harmon Trophy for aeronautics twice, and the Gold Medal of the Federation Aeronaucique Internationale.
He was a member of the Cosmos and Army and Navy clubs and a former member of the Military Order of the Caraboa.
He is survived by his wife, the former Fay Backett, of Chevy Chase, and a son, Thomas, of Brooklyn, N.Y.