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Zoe Dell Lantis Nutter

70 years of Aviation Marketing


(Originally published in THE LIVING LEGENDS OF AVIATION)

Zoe Dell Lantis Nutter’s greatest contributions to aviation were born from her vision and dream that the aviation industry should have its own hall of fame and an annual gathering of aviation legends. Zoe Dell’s legacy now includes the two most important and prestigious aviation events in the world.

Promoting commercial airline travel and the 1939/1940 Golden Gate International Exposition (also known as the World’s Fair), Zoe Dell flew more than 100,000 air miles. She learned to fly at a time when women were not encouraged to become pilots. She, however, became a commercial multi-engine pilot and logged more than 2,000 hours. Zoe Dell has flown in competitive aeronautical races and served as an officer in the Civil Air Patrol, where she flew search and rescue missions.

Zoe Dell Lantis met her first husband, Dr. Richard S. West, at the close of the Fair. Right after Pearl Harbor was attacked, West joined the Army Air Corps and was assigned to the largest regional station hospital in Santa Ana, Calif. The couple had only been in southern California a short time when Zoe Dell’s doctors told her she needed back surgery. This was devastating news because it meant her dance career was over, and she had wanted to join the USO and go on tour to support her country. Now that was impossible.

One of her good friends encouraged Zoe Dell to pursue flying. While her husband was waiting for his next assignment, he was transferred to Las Vegas, where they both earned their basic ratings.

After the war, the Wests moved to northern California. To skip the long, dangerous drive to San Francisco, Zoe Dell joined a flying club. The club was comfortable with having two women as members. As Zoe Dell said, “We had use of everything in the club from A to Z.”

In 1958 she and West divorced. That same year, she was asked by Standard Oil to be the official representative (or Ambassador-tress) to the World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium. She visited countries around the world, meeting and inviting world leaders to the Fair and, of course, promoting commercial air travel.

As Zoe Dell was travelling around the globe meeting politicians, it sparked an intense interest in politics that drives her to this day. The Republican party asked Zoe Dell to run for the northern California legislature, but she opted to serve on the State Central Committee to elect Ronald Reagan to the governorship and later the presidency.

By the early 1960s, Zoe Dell was promoting general aviation as well. William T. Piper, president of Piper Aircraft, offered her a position at Monarch Aviation (Piper Aircraft’s FBO and flight school) in Monterey, Calif. She adored Piper and considered him “The Father of General Aviation.”

Zoe Dell worked for Piper marketing and demonstrating his airplanes and selling flight courses. Zoe Dell and three other women pilots in Monterey started the Monterey Chapter of the Organization of Licensed Women Pilots, the Ninety-Nines. Zoe Dell was promoting the “Pinch Hitter” course, which taught women how to land a plane in case of an emergency. Zoe Dell encouraged women across the aviation community to learn how to land a plane, use the radio and read navigational charts. In the early 1960s, general aviation was growing so quickly that the market was seeking an inexpensive trainer that would be ideal for student instruction. The trainer up for consideration was a Bede-1. It was in high demand across the country, although it had not been FAA-certified. Zoe Dell was sent to Dayton to put a deposit down on the Bede-l and get Monarch Aviation’s name on the list. When she left Monterey, her boss told her that she might not have a job when she returned if she didn’t bring back a new Bede-l. It was on this trip that she met a successful Dayton businessman, Ervin J. “Erv” Nutter, who was destined to be her husband. Erv told Zoe Dell that he had a friend who knew Mr. Bede himself and that he might be able to help her purchase the plane.

Erv took her to Springfield, Ill., where Bede Aircraft was located. After Zoe Dell studied all aspects of the Bede-1, she felt that it was not a safe trainer aircraft. It was an innovative concept, with the wings pulled out from the side of the fuselage, folded to the back and locked securely in place by small levers under the plane. At this point, the plane was ready to be towed behind a car or moved to a garage for storage. Zoe Dell couldn’t see anybody exposing an airplane to the elements of the freeway and felt the plane could be easily damaged.

Monarch then sent Zoe Dell to Vero Beach, Fla., where she picked up a conventional trainer (a four-place Cherokee 140) and flew it back to Monterey.

After a whirlwind courtship, Zoe Dell married Erv Nutter, CEO and president of Elano Corporation.

Zoe Dell attained her commercial rating while dating Erv. When the couple got married and moved to Dayton, Zoe Dell had just turned 50. As she put it, “I thought I was very old, but I had no idea I was just beginning to live. If I could live my life over, it’d be from 50 on.”

Zoe Dell moved to the Nutter ranch in Dayton, where she still lives. She became wife and step-mother to three sons, all in school. The youngest was 12. She decided to run the home, pursue her passion for flying and get her instrument and multi-engine ratings.

Zoe Dell took her aviation training seriously. She went to Chicago for instrument training at Midway because it was known as the toughest school in America. Zoe Dell encouraged Erv to become a pilot so they could enjoy flying together.

When Zoe Dell arrived in Dayton, she was surprised to learn that hardly any recognition was given to the Wright family. She thought the Wright brothers’ legacy should be shared with the world. Ohio’s partnership with aviation created the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) in Dayton.

One of Zoe Dell’s lesser-known accomplishments is the development of the Elano manifold. During earlier flights in California, her plane needed more power to get over the mountain range. After talking to her husband, a few Elano engineers were assigned to design a better exhaust manifold using stainless steel. From that endeavor, the Elano manifold was developed and certified, and it has become OEM standard equipment on many piston aircraft.

By the late 1960s, several NAHF board members came to Zoe Dell’s home to ask for her help in building the organization. She offered to do what she did best—work on the promotion of the NAHF through public relations efforts like hosting benefit luncheons and coordinating every detail. She also worked to increase attendance by women, even the wife of her state’s Congressman.

In 1988, after serving 12 years on the board, Zoe Dell was elected the first woman president and chairwoman of the Congressional NAHF. Of all her great accomplishments, she is most proud of using her promotional skills and aviation knowledge to develop and lead the official NAHF.

The NAHF honors four individuals each year that have excelled in aviation and contributed to its success during his or her lifetime. Some of those honored are enshrined posthumously. As important as the NAHF is to Zoe Dell, she added, “I believed it was also important for the Living Legends of Aviation to meet together, to recognize significant contributions to aviation as they happened. With the benefit of celebrity exposure and a Hollywood venue, the Living Legends of Aviation annual awards ceremony is a spectacular opportunity to promote aviation and recognize people of extraordinary accomplishment.”

Zoe Dell visited our nation’s capitol many times to meet with elected officials about concerns of NAHF members. Because she was so effective with legislators, she was elected to the board of Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. During this time, she met the Secretaries of the Interior, many senators and congressmen, a number of presidents and all the people who produced the shows at the theater. After 22 years with Ford’s Theater, Zoe Dell developed connections which have helped her further promote aviation and the NAHF at the national level.”

Zoe Dell is a successful businesswoman, a member of the board of trustees of Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., and a charter member of the Friends of the First Ladies of the Smithsonian. Her deep commitment to flight was recognized by President Bush in June 2006. During the President’s Reception event, the Ford’s Theater board of directors bestowed upon her their highest honor. The Lincoln Medal is given because of the contributions made to the advancement of a chosen profession. Zoe Dell has distinguished herself as one of the greatest supporters of and contributors to the institution and the aviation industry.

Former First Lady Laura Bush described Zoe Dell to the audience as she presented her with the award, saying, “Few women can claim to be a dancer, a model, a huntress, an aviator, a philanthropist and a pirate. But tonight’s honoree, Zoe Dell Lantis Nutter, is one of them … Zoe Dell has always loved the stage, whether dancing as a chorus girl, pirouetting in the San Francisco Ballet or performing her most visible role, the official pirate theme girl for the 1939/1940 Golden Gate International Exposition held on San Francisco’s Treasure Island.”

Zoe Dell mission is to protect business aviation and promote it as being practical and safe. Zoe Dell’s motto: “The most dangerous part of your flight is your trip to the airport!”
 

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