Journey to 10,000: KC-10 flight engineer closing in on milestone – Part 2

10,000 Flight Hours

A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan, is refueled by a KC-10 Extender from the 6th Air Refueling Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 2, 2018. The KC-10 refueled two F-15C Eagles a total of 16 times, offloading a total of 78,400 pounds of fuel over a distance covering nearly 2,300 miles on a mission in the Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

10,000 Flight Hours

Three U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender pilots make their way to their assigned aircraft at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 2, 2018. The aircraft flew 2,375 miles from Eielson to Misawa Air Base, Japan, to provide refueling support for two Air Force F-15C Eagles, assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

10,000 Flight Hours

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Scott Dillinger, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender flight engineer, conducts pre-flight checks inside a KC-10 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 2, 2018. The aircraft flew 2,375 miles from Eielson to Misawa Air Base, Japan, to provide refueling support for two Air Force F-15C Eagles, assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

10,000 Flight Hours

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Scott Ferneding, Left, 6th Air Refueling Squadron assistant non-commissioned officer in charge of standardization and evaluation, and Master Sgt. Scott Dillinger, Right, 6th ARS noncommissioned officer in charge of standardization and evaluation, pose for a photo inside a KC-10 Extender at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 2, 2018. Ferneding and Dillinger have more than 14,000 flight hours between them and have served together since 2005. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

10,000 Flight Hours

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ben Clouse, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 flight engineer, conducts a pre-flight inspection inside a KC-10 Extender at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 2, 2018. Clouse served as the primary flight engineer on a mission to provide refueling support for two Air Force F-15C Eagle aircraft assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

10,000 Flight Hours

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Scott Dillinger, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender flight engineer, walks toward a KC-10 in the early morning hours of June 2, 2018 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Dillinger and his crew flew the aircraft to Misawa Air Base, Japan, providing refueling support for two Air Force F-15C Eagles, assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan, along the way. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

10,000 Flight Hours

A U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle assigned to the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan, follows a KC-10 Extender from 6th Air Refueling Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., June 2, 2018 after refueling. The KC-10 refueled two F-15s a total of 16 times, offloading a total of 78,400 pounds of fuel over a distance covering nearly 2,300 miles on a mission in the Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

10,000 Flight Hours

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Zachariah Ploeger, 6th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, conducts a refueling system check inside a KC-10 Extender at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 2, 2018. The boom operator is responsible for ensuring safe refueling with receiver aircraft thousands of feet above the ground. Ploeger and eight aircrew members provided refueling support for two F-15C Eagle aircraft in-route to Misawa Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- --

The alarm goes off at 4 a.m. on June 2 and like he’s done many times before, Master Sgt. Scott Dillinger, 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 Extender flight engineer, prepares for another mission in the KC-10 Extender.

Today, he will join a crew of three pilots, three flight engineers, to include himself, and two flying crew chiefs to provide refueling support for Air Force F-15C Eagle aircraft returning to Kadena Air Base, Japan, after participating in exercises RED FLAG-Alaska and Distant Frontier.

With a cup of coffee in his right hand and a smile that seems never-ending, Dillinger boards the crew bus. He’s excited for what awaits and enjoys joking with his fellow aircrew members on the way to the jet.

The flight is projected to take about 7 hours, which would bring Dillinger to within 6 hours of hitting the 10,000 flight hour milestone. While he’s no doubt happy about that, he has something more important to focus on right now.

“Ben, you got it today,” Dillinger said, referring to Staff Sgt. Ben Clouse, a 6th ARS KC-10 flight engineer who is close to earning his certification which will enable him to serve as the sole flight engineer on future missions. 

“Sure thing,” Clouse replies, jokingly adding that if he needs help, he knows where to go.

After the bus arrives at the jet, Dillinger and Clouse quickly exit to begin their pre-flight assessment. Flight engineers are responsible for assessing an aircraft before any mission. They inspect the aircraft for leaks, hydraulics issues and a range of other potential problems.

Satisfied with the results so far, Dillinger slaps Clouse on the back and says, “You got it.”

Clouse continues the pre-flight inspection while Dillinger, a veteran of more than three decades of military service, watches on.

“He’s doing well and he’ll soon be ready to fly on his own,” Dillinger said.

Before a KC-10 flight engineer can fly on missions by themselves, they must first complete two supervised Coronet, or fighter refueling missions, as well as two cargo missions.

Today’s mission will be Clouse’s first Coronet trip and he said he’s ready.

“The most important thing is ensuring we provide the fuel needed to the fighters because they can’t make it all the way across the Pacific without us,” he said. “I’ve been training to be a flight engineer since September 2017 and the tremendous support I’ve been given has made me 100 percent confident I can perform this mission.”

Much of that support has come from Dillinger, Clouse added.

“He’s really easy to talk to, explains things very well, has a wealth of experience and it’s priceless to have his expertise,” he said.

A few hours later, the KC-10 climbs into the clouds carrying 233,000 pounds of fuel.

Dillinger enjoys the view from the cockpit while the jet makes its climb high above Earth. He is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 6th ARS standardization and evaluation section. Along with keeping up his flight engineer certification, he's responsible for training 18 Airmen to follow in his footsteps. 

He said he enjoys teaching.

“It’s so rewarding to see others perform and do well,” he said. “I’m doing all I can to pass on the knowledge I have so others can carry it forward when I’m done.”

“I just wanted to make a difference,” he added. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some great engineers, pilots and crew. My hope now is to pass on knowledge and make others better.”

Dillinger has flown on more than 1,000 sorties during his career, supporting a variety of operations including Restore Hope, Southern and Northern Watch, Enduring and Iraqi Freedom and most recently, Operation Inherent Resolve.

Master Sgt. Scott Ferneding, 6th ARS assistant NCOIC of standardization and evaluation and a KC-10 flight engineer, said the Air Force is lucky to have Dillinger.

"He's so knowledgeable," he said. "If you ever have a question about the KC-10, you go to him and he's so professional and easy to approach. Not everyone is. Many NCO’s struggle with being able to communicate with people and explain how to do certain things. Not Dillinger.”

"He has such a unique way of describing things, so people understand," said Ferneding.

And this caring, understanding professional is nearing a historic milestone with every minute that passes on a KC-10 mission he’s a part of. The Coronet mission he flew on June 2 provided 78,400 pounds of fuel for two F-15s, refueling the aircraft 16 times which enabled them to fly about 2,300 miles from Eielson AFB, Alaska to Japan.

The flight took 6 hours and 31 minutes bringing Dillinger slightly more than six hours away from hitting 10,000 flight hours.

“Ten thousand is just so astronomical,” Ferneding said. “It’s like saying you’re going to the moon.”

Well if that’s the case, Dillinger may fly to the moon next. It seems like he’ll hit the 10,000 hour mark soon, possibly tomorrow.