If battery life can be improved to deliver an hour of flying time with reserve, an electrically powered helicopter would be perfect for training, says Sikorsky president Jeff Pino. Right now, the best battery provides about 15 minutes of useable flying time and weighs almost as much as the rest of the airframe.
The burden of research to improve the endurance-to-weight ratio is being borne by the automotive industry, and, pending the outcome, the aerospace industry is wise to wait and see. The niche is, after all, pretty tiny compared to the size of the capital investment required.
Another idea: electric tail rotors. Pino says the concept is worth exploring. Out with the heavy driveshaft to the tail and the gearbox to turn the corner to the tail rotor. In goes a light but powerful direct drive electric motor modulated by the rudder pedals. For military applications, such an approach would be much more resistant to hostile fire with a lower vulnerability profile and redundant control paths. Civil applications might look forward to improved reliability and reduced chances for loss of tail rotor control.