He died after a series of strokes, the Air Force said.
General Risner, who was promoted to the rank of brigadier general at his retirement in 1976, was shot down in September 1965 during a mission to destroy a missile site. Then a lieutenant colonel, he turned out to be the highest-ranking officer at Hoa Lo Prison, which American prisoners of war called the Hanoi Hilton. For the first five years after which higher-ranking officers came to the prison he helped organize inmates to make complaints about the conditions and to boost morale.
One of his major acts of defiance was helping to organize a church service in 1971, even though he knew he would be punished. As guards led him away to yet another spell in solitary confinement, more than 40 P.O.W.'s sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" to show support. He was later asked how he felt at that moment.
"I felt like I was nine feet tall and could go bear hunting with a switch," he said. In 2001, a nine-foot-tall statue of General Risner was installed at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to commemorate that declaration.
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who also was held at the Hanoi Hilton after his own fighter-bomber was shot down, said in a statement that General Risner was "an inveterate communicator, an inspiration to the men he commanded and a genuine American hero."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, also a Vietnam veteran, praised General Risner's "constant resistance" to "relentless torture."
Before his incarceration, General Risner had established himself as one of America's top pilots. In Korea, he shot down eight MIG-15 fighters. In 1957, when he was a major, he was chosen to fly an F-100F Super Sabre jet named the Spirit of St. Louis II to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Charles A. Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight on the same route. He did it in 6 hours and 37 minutes, a fifth of Lindbergh's time, setting a new trans-Atlantic record.
In Vietnam, General Risner was awarded the Air Force Cross for bravery. He was hit by enemy fire on four out of five consecutive missions. Time magazine put a portrait of him on the cover of its April 23, 1965, issue as an exemplar of the modern American warrior. In the article, he called himself "the luckiest man in the world."
Then he wasn't so lucky.
He was shot down, for the second time in Vietnam. It turned out that his North Vietnamese captors had read the Time article; they waved the magazine under his nose. An interrogator claimed that the only three people they would rather have captured were President Lyndon B. Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
"They thought I was much more important than I ever was," General Risner told Air Force magazine.
General Risner spent more than three years in solitary confinement, in total darkness. He once experienced an anxiety attack, but knew he would be beaten if he screamed. He stuffed a blanket in his mouth.
His advice to the men he commanded combined the heroic and the practical. "Resist until you are tortured," he said, "but do not take torture to the point where you lose the permanent use of your limbs."
When he was released in 1973, General Risner received another Air Force Cross for his gallantry as a P.O.W. His many other medals include the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
His memoir of his time as a prisoner, "The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese," was published in 1974.
James Robinson Risner was born on Jan. 16, 1925, in Mammoth Spring, Ark., where his father was a sharecropper. He did odd jobs in his youth, competed in rodeos and graduated from high school. He enlisted in the Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet in 1943 and flew fighters in Panama, but did not see combat. After the war, he joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard and learned to fly the F-51 Mustang.
He was recalled to fly in Korea, but had a broken wrist from falling off a horse. He convinced a flight surgeon that it was healed, but he was able to fly his first mission only after removing a cast. Until the Vietnam War, he was assigned to various bomber and fighter groups in the United States and Europe.
General Risner's first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; his sons Timothy, Daniel and David; his daughters Dana Duyka, Deborah Darrell and DeAnna Parker; 14 grandchildren; and his sister, Peggy Goldstein.
In later years, General Risner participated in reunions of airmen. At a gathering in the 1990s, he met a Russian MIG-15 ace who had been in Korea at the same time. The other pilot wondered if they had ever faced each other in combat.
"No way," General Risner replied. "You wouldn't be here."