Under the cover of darkness early in the morning of June 1 Master Sgt. Scott Dillinger inched closer to achieving a significant milestone: 10,000 flight hours.
At 5:30 a.m., Dillinger, the noncommissioned officer in charge of standardization and evaluation for the 6th Air Refueling Squadron and a KC-10 Extender flight engineer, joined three pilots, two flight engineers and a boom operator for a mission briefing at Travis Air Force Base, California.
Approximately 30 minutes later the crew made their way to the jet that would take them 1,855 miles to Eielson AFB, Alaska a few hours later.
Before the flight, Dillinger had 9,982.6 flight hours, less than 18 away from becoming only the fourth KC-10 flight engineer to achieve the 10,000 hour milestone.
"I love flying," said Dillinger with a smile as he stood just outside the cockpit. "Getting closer to hitting 10,000 hours is awesome and hopefully it means I've been successful at doing my job safely."
"I'm looking forward to hitting that milestone and celebrating that moment with my crew," he said. "They're like my brothers."
The KC-10 is an Air Mobility Command advanced tanker and cargo aircraft designed to provide increased global mobility for U.S. armed forces. The aircraft's primary mission is aerial refueling. It's also capable of transporting litter and ambulatory patients using patient support pallets during aeromedical evacuations. The KC-10 can transport up to 75 people and nearly 170,000 pounds of cargo a distance of about 4,400 miles without stopping to refuel.
The capacity of the aircraft's six tanks enables it to carry more than 356,000 pounds of fuel - almost twice as much as the KC-135 Stratotanker.
Flight engineers like Dillinger are responsible for ensuring all the systems on the aircraft are working properly and the aircraft is safe for flight.
"We check every system on the aircraft, verify take-off and landing data, oversee the flight plan and ensure any issues are identified," he said.
Dillinger started his military career in 1982 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served five years as a radio systems operator. He joined the Air National Guard in 1987 and served in the maintenance field until 1992, when he eventually joined the Air Force Reserve. In 1994, he became a C-5 Galaxy flight engineer and in 2004, he became a KC-10 flight engineer.
Dillinger has served in the United States military in one way or another for 36 years. He's earned five air medals, deployed five times in support of contingency operations and spent about a year and a half of his life in the air flying missions all over the world.
"He is amazing," said Capt. Eddie Miller, a 6th ARS assistant flight commander for the mission support flight and the aircraft commander for the mission to Eielson. "Flight engineers are critical to our mission and we don't fly without them. Dillinger is probably the most knowledgeable KC-10 flight engineer there is. You can ask him anything and he usually knows the answer."
The captain said he's excited Dillinger will soon take his place in history.
"It's rare for flight engineers to reach such a high number of flight hours before they retire," he said. "For him to reach 10,000, that's impressive. I'm thrilled I get to be a part of it."
The flight to Eielson took 4 hours and 21 minutes. That brings Dillinger's total to 9,986.9. He's expected to hit the 10,000-hour milestone over the next few days.