Navy Lieutenants Thomas G. W. Settle and Wilfred Bushnell took first place in the International Balloon Race on 27 September 1932 when their gas balloon landed on the Polish-Latvian border at Daugieliszki, Poland. The two naval aviators had departed Basle, Switzerland, on 25 September and flew their balloon for a distance of 963.123 miles. This established a new world record for balloons in three categories of volume. Rear Admiral William A. Moffett was overjoyed at the news of the accomplishment of his naval aviators, and they returned to Basle, Switzerland to receive their award.
Settle and Bushnell won the Gordon Bennett Cup or Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett (seen above) and this cup is still awarded every year during international competition. It represents the world’s oldest gas balloon race. Additionally, Lieutenant Settle would receive the Harmon Trophy for 1932.
Immediately following the celebration in Switzerland, Lieutenant Settle and his wife Faye traveled to Friedrichshafen, Germany, to board the Graf Zeppelin for its next flight to Brasil. He had been invited by Dr. Hugo Eckener,who was the manager of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin company during the inter-war years. Hugo was also commander of the famous Graf Zeppelin. His company built the LZ 126, later rechristened the USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), for the United States Navy as part of Germany’s war reparation payments. By steamship it would take twenty-one days to travel to Brasil, but the Graf Zeppelin made it in three and one-half days!
Here’s a video showing Eckener bringing Graf Zeppelin to visit New York City in 1929.
Here is a newsreel covering Lieutenant Commander (promotion!) Settle’s stratospheric flight in 1933…his nickname was “Tex,” who would go on to achieve more ballooning records and would eventually retire as a Vice Admiral.