A Dancer, Aviator, and Pirate: The Great Zoe Dell Nutter

We are fortunate to have Soluna Air Charter based in Ohio, also known to residents as the “Birthplace of Aviation.” The phrase is even captioned on our license plates throughout the state.  Most people attribute it to the Wright Brothers, or other famous aviation historians that are responsible for this title.  Yet, we have a true living legend in aviation in central Ohio, and her name is Zoe Dell Landis Nutter. 

 In the late 1930’s Zoe Dell went to California to fulfill a life long dream of hers to become a dancer. Soon after her arrival she was dancing for the San Francisco Ballet and in the area nightclubs.   After one of her shows, aviation executives approached Zodell about promoting commercial aviation at the Golden Gate International Exposition. The intent was to promote air travel in general, and overseas flights to East Asia in particular.  Her travels would be via the new China Clipper flying boats based at Treasure Island. Zoe Dell dressed in a pirate costume and served as the official hostess for the exposition. 

What amazes me most about Zoe Dell is how she changed the way the world viewed flying in commercial airplanes. People felt more comfortable seeing her out there. Her personality exuded confidence as she shared the joy in flying with her vivacious personality. Zoe Dell's background in dancing and entertainment proved to be working, as the once empty seats in six major airlines began to fill. Zoe Dell can proudly boast she had 100,000 passenger miles in her years of promoting and demonstrating the safety and comforts of air travel. 

By the early 1960s, she earned her pilot certification and logged over 2,000 flight hours; earning commercial, instrument and multi-engine certificates.  Later in life she was an inductee in the National Aviation Hall of Fame, Zoe Dell also served for 12 years of service as a board member, and as its First female President. 

Her leadership was also apparent with Piper Aircraft, Inc. Piper wanted her to be a spokesperson for general aviation, as she had done quite successfully for commercial aviation. Among her responsibilities there was to teach women to be able to navigate, handle the radio or land the plane in event of an emergency.  She joined the Ohio Civil Air Patrol, flying search and rescue missions, and became the first and only woman in the Civil Air Patrol.  Zoe Dell’s work and volunteerism helped improve flight safety and train the increasing numbers of private pilots.    

In addition to Piper, Zoe Dell also was involved with her husbands growing business, the Elano Corporation, which made tubing and engine components for the aerospace industry. Her flying experience and marketing background complemented her husband Erwin J. Nutter's technical expertise and soon she was directing promotions of the Small Aircraft Division and serving as one of the company pilots. 

Last, but not least, she helped found the local chapter of the Ninety-Nines, in Monterey California. The Ninety-Nines is an Organization of Licensed Women Pilots that encompasses women aviators internationally including past historians such as Amelia Earhart and Fay Gillis (Wells). 

Today, June 14, Ms. Zoe Dell Landis Nutter is 98 years young and looking forward to “Ninety Nine”! 

Happy Birthday and Thank you Ms. Nutter for all that you have accomplished to make aviation the flourishing industry it is today!

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