Context. Modern spectroscopy of early-type stars often aims at studying complex physical phenomena such as stellar pulsation, the peculiarity of the composition of the photosphere, chemical stratification, the presence of a magnetic field, and its interplay with the stellar atmosphere and the circumstellar environment. Comparatively less attention is paid to identifying and studying the "normal" A- and B-type stars and testing how the basic atomic parameters and standard spectral analysis allow one to fit the observations. By contrast, this kind of study is paramount for eventually allowing one to correctly quantify the impact of the various physical processes that occur inside the atmospheres of A- and B-type stars. Aims. We wish to establish whether the chemical composition of the solar photosphere can be regarded as a reference for early A- and B-late B-type stars. Methods. We have obtained optical high-resolution, high signal-to-noise ratio spectra of three slowly rotating early-type stars (HD 145788, 21 Peg and pi Cet) that show no obvious sign of chemical peculiarity, and performed a very accurate LTE abundance analysis of up to 38 ions of 26 elements (for 21 Peg), using a vast amount of spectral lines visible in the spectral region covered by our spectra. Results. We provide an exhaustive description of the abundance characteristics of the three analysed stars with a critical review of the line parameters used to derive the abundances. We compiled a table of atomic data for more than 1100 measured lines that may be used in the future as a reference. The abundances we obtained for He, C, Al, S, V, Cr, Mn, Fe, Ni, Sr, Y, and Zr are compatible with the solar ones derived with recent 3D radiative-hydrodynamical simulations of the solar photosphere. The abundances of the remaining studied elements show some degree of discrepancy compared to the solar photosphere. Those of N, Na, Mg, Si, Ca, Ti, and Nd may well be ascribed to non-LTE effects; for P, Cl, Sc and Co, non-LTE effects are totally unknown; O, Ne, Ar, and Ba show discrepancies that cannot be ascribed to non-LTE effects. The discrepancies obtained for O (in two stars) and Ne agree with very recent non-LTE abundance analysis of early B-type stars in the solar neighbourhood.
2009. Vol. 503, no 3, 945-962 p.