Retired Navy Capt. Nelson Mead (Bunky) Head, 71, an aviator who retired from military service in 1961 and then spent eight years as administrator of research grants at George Washington University, died of cancer Thursday at New Smyrna Beach, Fla., where he had lived since 1971.

His last military assignment before retirement had been with the Sixth Naval District in Jacksonville, Fla.

Capt. Head was born in Arlington, attended McKinley Tech High School in Washington, and graduated from Devitt Preparatory School. He was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1931.

During World War II, Capt. Head commanded an antisubmarine air group that protected shipping off the Atlantic Coast.

His postwar assignments included two tours of duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington as well as assignments in Honolulu and Panama and with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Paris.

His decorations included the Legion of Merit.

He is survived by his wife, the former Virginia Mae Crocker of New Smyrna Beach; two sons, Nelson M. Jr. of Rockville, and Navy Capt. Thomas A. of Arlington; a sister, Mrs. Claude Cooper of Lake Barcroft, and three grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society.